Mary McLeod Bethune Statue Unveiled in Florida Before a Permanent Stay in the U.S. Capitol

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A new 11-foot statue honoring civil rights giant Mary McLeod Bethune—made using marble from the same quarry Michelangelo used to build the infamous David sculpture—was unveiled Tuesday in Florida. Artist Nilda Comas spent four years chiseling away at the marble in her Italian studio, before the statue made its way to Daytona Beach, where it will stay until Dec. 12.

The statue’s final stop? The U.S. Capitol, where it will replace the monument of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith as the first statue of a Black person in the Capitol Building’s National Statuary Hall, according to USA Today.

Bethune was born to formerly enslaved parents in 1875 and was a pioneer in both the civil rights and suffrage movements. Bethune helped the U.S. delegation that created the United Nations charter, served as an advisor to five U.S. presidents, created the National Council of Negro Women, and founded Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla. This is only a short list of her many accomplishments.

In the sculpture, Bethune is holding a black velvet rose, leaning on a walking stick and dressed in a graduation cap and gown, which she wore for both graduations and lectures. The activist saw the flower as a symbol of diversity and acceptance of individuality after she encountered one for the first time in a European garden in 1927, USA Today reports.

Comas, the master sculpture, spent months learning about Bethune’s life before putting her chisel to an 11.5-ton block of Tuscan marble. “I just fell in love with Dr. Bethune and everything that she did,” Comas said, according to WESH.

The towering marble sculpture is currently in the News-Journal Center, where Daytona Beach residents got to see it in a public exhibit for the first time on Tuesday, WESH reports. The artwork was made possible through lengthy government approval processes and so far $740,000 out of a $850,000 goal has been raised. Viewing the statue is free and only requires a reservation.

Another sculpture of Bethune, made of bronze, will replace the marble statue once it’s moved to the capitol. It will be in Riverfront Park at the tip of Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard, where a plaza will also be built to honor her.

Her great-grandson, Charles Maurice Bethune, who was born four years after she died, is pleased to see that his great-grandmother is getting recognition for all her work. “We are very proud to know that her time has come and she is able to be now looked upon throughout the world as someone who made a difference,” Bethune said, according to WESH.

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