Daytona Beach, FL - In the coming months, a statue of Dr. Mary McLeod-Bethune will replace the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, which has sat in the US Capitol Building for almost 100 years.
At the moment, General Smith's statue sits next to that of John Gorrie—the inventor of mechanical cooling, who is also considered one of the grandfathers of air conditioning—as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington DC, which is composed of statues donated by states to honor those notable in their history.
The decision to replace the Confederate general—which has been in the Capitol since 1922—came in 2018 after then-Florida Governor Rick Scott signed legislation to replace the statue. After referring to the state's public for who should replace General Smith, the state decided to replace him with famed African-American civil rights activist and educator, Dr. Mary McLeod-Bethune.
Since then, the Dr. Mary McLeod-Bethune Statuary Fund, a non-profit organization, worked to fund the project of adding Dr. Bethune's statue to the National Statuary Hall Collection. The fund eventually commissioned Nilda Comas, a master sculptor with workshops in Florida, Puerto Rico, and Italy, to create a marble statue of Dr. Bethune. The statue will feature Dr. Bethune in a traditional graduation cap and gown to symbolize her contributions to education.
The fund also managed to finance an identical bronze statue of Dr. Bethune that will soon make it's way to its new home in Daytona Beach. According to Bob Lloyd, a member of the statuary fund who spoke at Tuesday's (June 22) Volusia County Council meeting, the bronze statue will become a part of Bethune Plaza, which will be located in the upcoming Daytona Beach Riverfront Esplanade.
"The statue will be facing west, down Mary McLeod-Bethune Boulevard, towards her beloved Bethune-Cookman University," said Lloyd.
At present, both copies of the Dr. Bethune statue are sitting in Comas' workshop in the town of Pietrasanta, located on the coast of northern Tuscany in Italy. Members of the statuary fund were supposed to travel to Pietrasanta in May for a blessing of the statues, but that plan was hampered by COVID-19 travel restrictions. Per Lloyd, the fund plans to travel to Italy for the blessing within the next couple of weeks.
After the blessing, both statues will make their way to Daytona Beach to be exhibited before the marble statue is transferred to the Capitol in Washington DC.
The statue will also be a first to many things after its installation in Washington DC. Lloyd says once it's placed in the Capitol, Dr. Bethune's statue will be the first African-American and African-American woman statue to represent a state in the Capitol; the first statue in the Capitol to be created by a woman of Puerto Rican descent; the first statue in the Capitol to be dressed in a cap and gown; the first replacement of a statue in the Capitol by the State of Florida; and it will also be the first statue in the Capitol dedicated to a person who has called the Daytona Beach and Volusia County area home.
This will also be the second statue of Dr. Mary McLeod-Bethune in the Washington DC area. A statue showing Dr. Bethune "handing her legacy" to two young black children can be found in Lincoln Park, which is around a mile east of the Capitol building. That statue was also the first statue erected in Washington DC to honor an African American and a woman.