Bethune has made history as the first Black person to have a state-commissioned statue in Statuary Hall, which features two statues from each state.
An event celebrating the statue unveiling on Wednesday was attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn as well as other lawmakers and activists.
Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida spoke at the event, saying, “I am proud to be a Floridian this morning, because the people of the state of Florida have sent the great educator and civil rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune to represent our dynamic and diverse state — the first to be represented by a Black American in National Statuary Hall.”
Praising the civil rights pioneer, Castor said, “she devoted her life to equal rights and service.”
“We lift her up today at a time of competing ideologies to help heal and unify through her example.”
There is a statue of Rosa Parks in Statuary Hall, but it wasn’t a state-sponsored effort. According to the Architect of the Capitol, the tribute to Parks was the first statue commissioned by Congress since 1873.
The daughter of formerly enslaved people, Bethune became an influential Black educator and civil and women’s rights leader. She opened a boarding school for Black children in 1904, which later became Bethune-Cookman University.
Bethune led voter registration drives after women gained the right to vote in 1920.
She served as an adviser to five US presidents. Bethune was named director of the National Youth Administration’s Office of Negro Affairs under President Franklin Roosevelt. She was also friends with the President and then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
In recent years, momentum has grown for the removal of Confederate statues from places of prominence across the United States.
In June 2021, the House passed a resolution to expel Confederate statues from the US Capitol and replace its bust of Roger B. Taney, the chief justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision, with one honoring Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice. Sixty-seven Republicans voted with 218 Democrats in support of the bill.
CNN’s Christina Zdanowicz and Alex Rogers contributed to this report.
July 14, 2022 at 07:44AM