Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights leader and pioneer in education, became the first Black American to be honored with a state statute in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall on Wednesday (July 13), per NBC News.
From 1875 to 1955 when she passed, Bethune helped lay the groundwork for the civil rights movement and was a trailblazing educator in Florida, the state that commissioned the project to elevate her statue to the Capitol.
Bethune’s historic statue replaces that of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, who was one of the last to surrender at the close of the Civil War in 1865.
“To have her statue here is quite phenomenal, absolutely, as a reminder of what our democracy is about,” her granddaughter Evelyn Bethune said in a statement.
Most notably, Mary McLeod Bethune founded what is now known as Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, which she started as a girls’ school in 1904. She was also a founder of the United Negro College Fund, which served as important financial backing for predominately Black colleges and universities.
Bethune’s friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt led to her appointment as the director of the Negro Affairs Division for the National Youth Administration.
More, she led President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet” and helped President Harry Truman draft an executive order that desegregated the armed forces, according to Mary McLeod Bethune biographer Ashley Robertson Preston.
“She was the Oprah of her time. She was the Booker T. Washington of her time. She was the Martin Luther King of her time,” Preston said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy presented Mary McLeod Bethune’s statue in Statuary Hall on Wednesday along with members of Florida’s congressional delegation.
The statue depicts Bethune in an academic rose holding a black rose, a term of endearment she used with her students.
Her core values of love, hope, faith, racial dignity, a thirst for education, courage, and peace are inscribed on books found at the foot of the statue.