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Mary McLeod Bethune statue replaces Confederate general at U.S. Capitol

The daughter of former slaves, Bethune has become an influential black educator and civil and women’s rights leader. She opened a boarding school for black children in 1904, which later became Bethune-Cookman University.
“Dr. Bethune embodies the best of the Sunshine State – Floridians and all Americans can be very proud to be represented by the great educator and civil rights icon,” said U.S. Representative Kathy Castor of Florida in a press release. Tuesday. Castor was at the opening.

The 11-foot-tall statue of Bethune was unveiled Monday in Daytona Beach, Florida, which Bethune called its home and is home to Bethune-Cookman University.

The statue will be on display at Daytona Beach until December before traveling to the United States Capitol in early 2022.

“There are a lot of firsts that are great for our country, the State of Florida, and for our hometown here in Daytona Beach,” said Bob Lloyd, Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, Inc.

The statue of Bethune was made by a Hispanic woman, master sculptor Nilda Comas, who spent two years sculpting it. Beyond Bethune being the first African American to represent a state in Statutory Hall, she is also the first person from Daytona Beach to be represented there, Lloyd said.

“I’m a third generation from Daytona Beach, Florida. My grandfather called her her friend,” Lloyd told CNN. His grandfather, a local car dealership for decades, was active in advocating for civil rights and befriended Bethune, he added.

“It’s, like, three generations, and the connection is very real,” he said. “This is a movie that my family is really proud of.”

She fought for civil rights and women’s rights

Bethune was born on a farm near Maysville, South Carolina, in 1875. She was the 15th child of former slaves.

In 1904, she established the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for the training of black girls.

Bethune’s impact has left a mark in Florida but also on blacks and women in general. Her life’s work is an inspiration to Nancy Lohman, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, Inc.

“Dr. Bethune was an incredible pioneer,” Lohman told CNN. “She fought for the rights of African Americans, the rights of women. When she saw a problem, she got involved to help create a solution.”

Bethune ran voter registration campaigns after women won the vote in 1920.

She has served as an advisor to five US presidents. Bethune was appointed director of the Office of Black Affairs of the National Youth Administration under President Franklin Roosevelt. She was also friends with the president and the then first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt.

“She had a calm and patient demeanor,” Lohman said. “She really sets a relevant example today that collaboration and building censuses and reasoning with professional dialogue is a way to move programs forward.”

The statue of Bethune had been in preparation for years

Mary McLeod Bethune statue replaces Confederate general at U.S. Capitol

The journey to recognize Bethune in this way began in 2016, Lloyd said.

Governor Rick Scott signed a bill calling for the replacement of the Smith statue that year, Lloyd said. Bethune was selected in 2018.

The 6,129-pound statue was made from an 11.5-ton block of white marble. The marble was taken from a cave that Michelangelo used in the Italian Alps.

Bethune wouldn’t be in statue form if it weren’t for Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, Inc. The nonprofit’s board of directors has raised around $ 800,000 in private donations, Lloyd said.

The money went to the marble statue, as well as a bronze statue that was slated for a new waterfront park in Daytona Beach, Lohman said. A documentary and a school program module will follow, she added.

“His accomplishments and his legacy have a positive influence in my life,” Lohman said. “The opportunity we have in our country is for its legacy to have a positive influence in the lives of everyone and especially our young children and students.”