From the office of Rep Val Demings

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Reps. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) introduced legislation to welcome the statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune to the U.S. Capitol. The statue will be the first statue of a Black American to represent a U.S. state in Statuary Hall.

Said Rep. Demings, “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.’ 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, responsibility to our young people and thirst for education. Education: the key to success in America. Therefore, it is more than fitting that she should be here in the ‘People’s House.’

“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. I am proud that she will be Florida’s new face in the U.S. Capitol, and know that that her life will continue to inspire all Americans for years to come.”

Said Rep. Waltz, “Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune is one of our district’s and Florida’s most influential leaders. Bethune knew education is the key to equality and to a better life. Bethune was a servant 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. 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 servant leadership to America.”

Background

The U.S. Capitol hosts two statues donated by each state. Last year, Florida requested a change to its representation, replacing a statue of General Edmund Kirby Smith (a Confederate general) with one of Dr. McLeod Bethune.

If passed, the resolution introduced by Reps. Demings and Waltz would authorize the use of the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for a welcome ceremony for the statue, where it would be displayed for six months. After this display period, the statue will join the National Statuary Hall Collection.

The statue is expected to be unveiled next year.

Rep. Demings received an Honorary Doctorate from Bethune-Cookman University in 2018.

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod was the 15th child to slaves on a farm near Mayesville, South Carolina. Over the course of her extraordinary life, she would become one of America’s leading advocates for education, civil, and voting rights, the founder of one of America’s premier schools—Bethune-Cookman College—and an advisor to five U.S. presidents.

That story starts in a small missionary school, five miles from the farm where her family worked. She was the only member of her family to go to school. She walked each way, doing her schoolwork by candlelight. When no missionary opportunities were available, she turned to education, teaching for almost a decade and marrying fellow teacher Albertus Bethune. Then, in a decision that would change history, she purchased a small cottage in Florida, moving there with a dollar and fifty cents in her pocket, and teaching a first class of five students in a bare-bones room.

Her school, the Bethune Institute for Girls, would later merge with the Cookman Institute for Boys to form Bethune-Cookman.

From these humble beginnings, her impact swiftly grew. She expanded her school, founded the first Black hospital in Daytona, fought for civil rights, opened the first public library for Black Floridians, and faced down a KKK mob.

Word of her bravery and abilities spread. She served in leadership roles in Florida’s premier civil rights organizations, where she fought for educational opportunity, voting rights, child welfare, workers’ rights, and an end to lynchings.

She became an advisor to five U.S. presidents, including roles in housing and child health for Presidents Coolidge and Hoover. She became one of President Roosevelt’s closest advisors, and one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s closest friends. In 1936, he appointed her as director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, where she worked to employ over 300,000 young people.

The remainder of her life was devoted to education and the fight for liberty. She worked with the National Council of Negro Women and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She went to the U.N. and accepted an appointment from President Truman. She continued to fight for her school.

 

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