Activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune was instrumental in advancing education at historically Black colleges and universities throughout the country. The South Carolina native—who was one of the co-founders of Bethune-Cookman University—will be posthumously memorialized with a statue at the U.S. Capitol, Florida Politics reported.
The effort to have a sculpture of Bethune featured on Capitol Hill was led by Florida Congresswoman Val Demings who is a vice presidential hopeful. The addition of the statue is historic as it marks the first time a sculpture of a Black woman will be featured in National Statuary Hall. In 1904, Bethune founded the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls. The school eventually was transformed into a college and merged with Cookman Institute—an all-male school—for the creation of Bethune-Cookman College in 1929.
Outside of her work in the realm of education, Bethune was a fierce advocate for racial and gender equality. She launched the National Council of Negro Women as an avenue to create opportunities for Black women and their families. She also led several initiatives surrounding women’s suffrage. Bethune served as vice president of the NAACP until she passed away in 1955.
Rep. Demings says the statue is a way to ensure her legacy is kept alive and her contributions inspire the next generation of leaders. “Mary McLeod Bethune was the most powerful woman I can remember as a child,” she said in a statement, according to the news outlet. “She has been an inspiration to me throughout my whole life. I am proud that she will be Florida’s new face in the U.S. Capitol, and know that her life will continue to inspire all Americans for years to come.” The statue is slated to be unveiled in 2021. It will replace a sculpture of confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith.
Historic Black changemakers are being memorialized across the country. In 2019, a statue of the late legendary tennis player Althea Gibson, who broke several racial barriers within the realm of sports, was unveiled at the U.S. Open.