In a bipartisan effort, U.S. Reps. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) have introduced a resolution authorizing a welcome ceremony for a new Mary McLeod Bethune statue at the U.S. Capitol.
“When Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was a child, she picked up a book. The other children, seeing that she was Black, told her ‘put that down, you can’t read,’” said Demings, who serves Florida’s 10th District. “That moment started a lifelong commitment to education and civil rights and launched an unparalleled legacy that lives on today.
“In her last will and testament, she wrote that she leaves us with hope, love, faith and responsibility to our young people and thirst for education,” she said. “Education: the key to success in America. Therefore, it is more than fitting that she should be here in the ‘People’s House.’”
Waltz, who serves the Sunshine State’s 6th Congressional District, noted that Bethune’s inspiration reaches much further than “our Daytona Beach community and Florida.”
“Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune knew education is the key to equality and a better life for all,” he added. “Dr. Bethune was a leader who worked hard every day to provide opportunities to those in our community and our country who didn’t have a voice. Her example and legacy should make all Floridians proud.”
Born the 15th of 17 children of former slaves, Bethune is recognized for paving the way for civil rights and higher education for African Americans in the United States. She founded a literacy school for African-American girls in Daytona Beach, which later merged with the all-male Cookman Institute to form Bethune-Cookman College.
The Bethune statue, which is set for unveiling next year, would be the first of an African American to represent a U.S. state in Statuary Hall.
The statue will depict Bethune holding a rose in one hand while her other side contains the cane given to her by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Highlighting her passion for educating African Americans, Bethune dons a graduation cap and gown.
If Demings’ and Waltz’s resolution succeeds, it will authorize the use of the Capitol Rotunda to display the statue for six months.
“Mary McLeod Bethune was the most powerful woman I can remember as a child. She has been an inspiration to me throughout my whole life,” Demings noted in a statement. “I am proud that she will be Florida’s new face in the U.S. Capitol and know that her life will continue to inspire all Americans for years to come.
“Florida’s Sixth District is honored to have one of its most notable figures celebrated in the U.S. Capitol — and I’m looking forward to thousands of visitors in Washington learning more about Dr. Bethune and her leadership,” she said.