Nigel Cook / News-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Co
Educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune will soon make history as the first black person to have a state-commissioned statue in the Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol, when her statue replaces that of a Confederate general.
This is a milestone for many years in the making. So what exactly will this revolutionary statue look like?
Members of the public can now see for themselves, after the larger-than-life marble figure was unveiled in the home state of Bethune, Florida, earlier this week. It will remain on display in Daytona Beach for several months before taking place in the nation’s capital in early 2022, according to US representative Kathy Castor.
Bethune, the daughter of former slaves, was an influential educator and activist who, among her many accomplishments, founded the National Council of Black Women, advised several US presidents, and established a boarding school for black children that would later become Bethune University. -Cookman. at Daytona Beach.
The 11-foot statue, which weighs over 6,000 pounds, was carved from the largest (and last) piece of statuary marble from Michelangelo’s career in Italy. It was created by artist Nilda Comas, who was chosen from a group of 1,600 applicants and is the first Hispanic master sculptor to create a statue for the National Statuary Hall State Collection.
Floridians can see the statue in person and learn more about Bethune’s life at a free exhibit to be held at the News-Journal Center at Daytona State College through early December.
“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,” Castor said. “I am happy that she is rightly recognized here in Florida before she takes her place of honor and recognition by all of America on the United States Capitol.”
A symbolic statue for an American icon
With a secure subject and sculptor, creating the actual statue required significant fundraising and research efforts.
The Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Project has spent years raising private funds for a marble statue for the Capitol, as well as another statue for a local park, a feature documentary and a K-12 program module.
Bob Lloyd, the treasurer of the fund’s board of directors, told CNN that the association raised about $ 800,000 in private donations. That money went to the marble statue and a bronze replica that was slated for a new waterfront park in Daytona Beach.
Before starting to sculpt, Comas conducted extensive research in the State and National Archives, the Florida State Archives, and Bethune-Cookman University.
During Monday’s unveiling, she called the four-year process a “nice trip.”
“I just fell in love with Dr. Bethune and everything she’s done,” Comas said, according to WESH, the Orlando NBC affiliate.
The statue represents Bethune wearing a cap and a dress and a pearl necklace, holding a black rose in one hand and a cane in the other. She is standing in front of a stack of books, with a warm smile and what a local journalist described as eyes that “capture wisdom [and] kindness.”
The base of the pedestal is inscribed with his name, country of origin, dates of birth and death, as well as one of his most famous quotes: “Investing in the human soul. Who knows, maybe it will be. – to be a rough diamond. “
Gordon Parks / Library of Congress
These symbols each speak of an element of Bethune’s life and heritage, the association explains.
The cap and dress represent her lifelong commitment to education, and the stack of books symbolizes her focus on expanding education for women and people of color in particular. The thorns carry words of her one of her famous writings, her testament: love, faith, racial dignity, courage, peace and “a thirst for education”.
Bethune collected trekking poles during her lifetime, apparently viewing them as symbols of sophistication and leadership. The walking stick depicted on the statue is based on a gift she received from President Franklin Roosevelt, with whom she worked closely. He appointed her to the National Youth Administration in 1936, became the organization’s director of black affairs, and was the only female member of Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet”.
The black rose represents Bethune’s work in education, as well as her belief that “loving your neighbor” requires interracial, interfaith and international fellowship, according to the association.
“Although there is no species of flower called a ‘black rose’, Dr Bethune was captivated by the beauty of a rose with a particularly dark tint,” he explained. “These dark roses instantly became her favorites. She then called her students her ‘black roses’.”
History of many years in the making
The Capitol Statuary Hall collection includes two statues from each of the 50 states.
Florida first decided to replace one of its statues, in honor of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, in 2016. It was withdrawn from the Capitol just last month.
State lawmakers unanimously approved Bethune as his replacement in 2018, after a lengthy research process that included input from members of the public.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis officially asked in 2019 – on the 144th anniversary of Bethune’s birthday – to represent Florida in the National Statues Collection.
“Dr. Bethune is replacing an obscure Confederate general who has represented Florida in the state collection since 1922 and will be one of the few women to represent a state in the collection of 100 statues,” Castor said.
Florida isn’t the only state making such a change – Virginia replaces its statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee with civil rights icon Barbara Johns, and some lawmakers are pushing to increase the number of women represented at the Capitol. and remove Confederate statues from display.
There are only four other black Americans depicted in statues across the Capitol (and about a dozen more in paintings and murals): Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. .