U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Michael Waltz are introducing a resolution authorizing a welcome ceremony for a new Mary McLeod Bethune statue at the U.S. Capitol.
Bethune was a prominent black educator and one of the founders of Bethune-Cookman University. Each state is allotted two statues to display in the National Statuary Hall. The Bethune statue will be the first likeness of a black woman in the hall’s history.
“Mary McLeod Bethune was the most powerful woman I can remember as a child,” Demings said in a Friday statement.
“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.”
Demings is a Democrat representing Florida’s 10th Congressional District. She’s teaming up on the resolution with Waltz, a Republican in Florida’s 6th Congressional District.
“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,” Waltz said.
Bethune’s statue will replace a statue of former confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith.
The Smith statue was sent to D.C. in 1922 but earned renewed scrutiny in recent years amid a national conversation regarding confederate statues.
In 2018, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a measure authorizing the Bethune statue to take the place of Smith’s.
The resolution from Demings and Waltz would have the Bethune statue placed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for six months as part of a welcoming ceremony prior to its display in the National Statuary Hall.
Demings elaborated on Bethune’s legacy in additional remarks Friday.
“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,'” Demings explained.
“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.'”
Added 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.”
The statue is expected to be unveiled by 2021.