By a vote of 111-1 on Tuesday afternoon, February 20, 2018, the Florida House approved HB 139 to place a statue of Mary McLeod Bethune in U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. The bill was signed by Governor Rick Scott.
Among her accomplishments, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, civil rights leader and stateswoman, advised U.S. Presidents Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt and Truman. She was an active participant in the writing of the United Nations Charter that was developed at Dumbarton Oaks, San Francisco in 1945. Dr. Bethune founded the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904 with $1.50. Bethune’s school eventually became Bethune-Cookman University located in Daytona Beach.
Senators voted in January 37-0 on SB 472 to take down a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and put Bethune in its place in the National Statuary Hall, where each state has two statues to represent it. Florida’s other statue is of John Gorrie, a pioneering inventor of air conditioning.
The move to replace Smith’s statue began after the shooting of nine people in 2015 at a black church in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist led to a reappraisal of Confederate memorials throughout the country.
In 2016, Florida lawmakers passed a bill that was signed by Gov. Rick Scott into law to remove Smith’s statue and set up a cultural panel to determine a replacement. Bethune was approved unanimously by the panel, which also considered Everglades conservationist Marjory Stoneman Douglas and George Washington Jenkins Jr., the founder of Publix.
Bethune’s likeness would become the hall’s first statue honoring an African-American woman.