A marble statue of educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune will be unveiled Wednesday to represent Florida in the National Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol.
Bethune’s likeness will replace a statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, which stood in the Capitol for nearly a century. Bethune, who died in 1955, will be the first black person to represent a state in the collection.
“Dr. Bethune’s story and legacy is one that resonates with so many Floridians and Americans, and countless generations of visitors will now experience her life’s work as an educator, civil rights leader and force for good,” U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., said in a statement.
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Bethune founded what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach in 1904 and later served as an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt.
WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 12: View of the Mary McLeod Bethune statue in Lincoln Park in Washington, DC on August 11, 2013. (Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Funded by donations through the Dr Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Project, the statue was made in Italy by sculptor Nilda Comas.
In 2016, Florida lawmakers voted to replace the Smith statue amid a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols that followed the 2015 shooting deaths of nine black worshipers at a historic black church in Charleston, North Carolina. South. Rick Scott approved the use of Bethune’s likeness in 2018.
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Smith’s statue was removed from the U.S. Capitol in September after representing Florida since 1922. Smith, born in St. Augustine, commanded Confederate forces west of the Mississippi during the Civil War and spent his final years in as a college professor in Tennessee.
The statue went to the state’s Florida Museum of History, but no plans have been announced to display it publicly.
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Each state is represented by two statues in the National Statuary Hall. The other Florida statue depicts John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.