By Andreas Butler
“This is one of the most important weeks in our state’s history and in the history of our country. I am so proud that the great State of Florida is becoming greater on July 13, 2022. I am excited about her statue and all the symbolism it represents teachable moments for our children, students and our community,” Nancy Lohman, chair of the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, told the Florida Courier.
“Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was an accomplished Floridian whose efforts as an influential leader, educator and civil rights activist made her one of our nation’s most notable figures. Dr. McLeod Bethune’s statue will represent the best of who we are as Floridians.”
Dr. Bethune was the founder of what is now Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU) in Daytona Beach.
She also was a philanthropist, civil rights activist and humanitarian.
The university hosted a watch event at the Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center, 698 W. International Speedway Blvd., Daytona Beach. B-CU alumni chapters also hosted watching parties nationwide.
Dr. Bethune’s family is just as proud about the honor.
Her great-grandson, Charles Bethune, told the Courier, “We are just humbled that she is being honored. It’s overdue. The things that she was able to accomplish as a Black woman during her lifetime and during those times was just unheard of.”
The marble statue is 11 feet tall and depicts Bethune in cap and gown with books in one hand and a black rose in the other.
It was created by world-renowned sculptor Nilda Comas in Pietrasanta, Italy. Comas secured the last marble that weighed 11,500 tons out of Michaelangelo’s cave in the Alps.
Dr. Bethune will make history as the first Black to have a state-sponsored statue in Statuary Hall. The daughter of formerly enslaved people, Bethune became an influential Black educator and civil and women’s rights leader.
She is one of the two state-sponsored representatives from Florida along with John Gorrie, who is credited for creating air conditioning. Dr. Bethune’s statue replaces the one of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, whose statue was removed in September 2021.
Dr. Bethune also served in the federal government and was the highest ranking African American official in government when she served as the director of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration. She also was a friend of his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt.
She founded the National Council of Negro Women, was on the founding conference of the United Nations, and served as national vice president of the NAACP.
The initial vote in the Florida House of Representatives for the statue of Dr. Bethune was 111-1 back in 2018.
The legislation was first initiated by then-Florida House of Representative Patrick Henry and Florida State Senator Perry Thurston.
U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor pushed legislation at the federal level.
The statue was completed and first revealed in Pietrasanta, Italy in July 2021. It arrived in Daytona Beach in October 2021 and was displayed at the News Journal Center from October to December 2021.
A smaller bronze statue of Bethune will be unveiled in Bethune Plaza at Riverfront Esplanade Park at the corner of Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard and Beach Street on Thursday, Aug. 18 at 9 a.m.
Funds for the statue were raised by the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund; the Daytona Beach Community Foundation, Inc.; and several community businesses and individual donors.
This story was updated from its original that appeared in the Florida Courier.