First Statue Of A Black American Unveiled In U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall

A statue of civil rights leader Mary McCleod Bethune was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol on July 13, marking the first time a state-commissioned statue representing a Black American would be on display in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall.

Bethune was a visionary educator, presidential advisor, and one of the nation’s earliest Black female activists, according to the National WWII Museum. Her public service to the nation included launching schools for Black girls in Dayton, Ohio, and creating the co-ed, four-year Bethune-Cookman College. In the 1930s, Bethune became an advisor to five presidents, including Franklin D Roosevelt.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and other national and state-level lawmakers attended the ceremony to honor the civil rights pioneer who hailed from Florida.

“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,” said Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida during the ceremony, according to CNN. “We lift her up today at a time of competing ideologies to help heal and unify through her example.”

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The 11-foot-tall statue was sculpted by Fort Lauderdale-based artist Nilda Comas from a slab of marble from the same quarry used for Michaelangelo’s David. It replaced a bronze statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith which was removed from Statuary Hall in 2021, according to The Washington Post.

“Today, we are rewriting the history we want to share with our future generations,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida, USA Today reported. “We are replacing a remnant of hatred and division with the symbol of hope and inspiration … in her rightful place among our nation’s giants of history.”

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The new statue is the fifth statue in the U.S. Capitol representing a Black person. According to USA Today, statues honoring Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks reside in other parts of the Capitol building. However, Bethune’s statue is the first of a Black American in Statuary Hall, which houses 100 statues total, with two commissioned from each of the 50 states. Florida’s other statue in the collection represents inventor and early disease researcher John Gorrie.