A True Hero's Welcome

Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune To Be Honored In Statuary Hall

“Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.” - Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune

The African American woman who literally changed the course of history for thousands upon thousands of lives all around the globe will be honored by taking her place in Statuary Hall, representing the State of Florida this February, in Washington D.C.

The woman, who had a true passion for educating young African Americans, who started Bethune-Cookman University with literally $1.50, who would not take no for an answer or accept any type of racial inequality, who hob-nobbed with Presidents and dignitaries, will now sit amongst the statuary likes of Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, George Washington, and Gerald Ford, to name a few. Dr. Bethune’s statue will be the first Female African American educator to be installed at the great hall.

Standing at 11 feet tall and weighing in at over 4 tons, the awe-inspiring statue was created by renowned sculptor Nilda Comas (pictured below), who was chosen out of thousands also vying to create the likeness of Dr. Bethune. Working out of a workshop in Pietrasanta, Italy, the marble was mined from the very same quarry that Michaelangelo's work was created from.

Dr. Bethune Statue With Sculptor

The path from inception to completion was a long one, but a committee working out of Daytona Beach took on this passion project and propelled it along. Led by Nancy Lohman, a resident of Ormond Beach, businesswoman, and philanthropist, the committee sent some ambassadors to Italy to celebrate the unveiling and blessing of the statue. On July 10, 2021, Dr. Bethune’s birthday, a group of board ambassadors, Congressional Representative Kathy Castor, Daytona Beach Mayor Henry, Bethune-Cookman University Interim President Hiram Powell, Alumni of the University, and dignitaries from Pietrasanta, Italy all convened to witness the splendor of the statue. It was a joyous event, for a monumental point in U.S. History.

The statue is currently being shipped to the United States, along with a smaller bronze statue, and will make a historic visit to Daytona Beach along the way to Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. The statuary committee is currently planning some events to celebrate the homecoming and will be announcing updates shortly. The statue is currently anticipated to arrive in September.

The significance of this commissioning goes far beyond a woman with a zeal to educate. Dr. Bethune was a visionary, an entrepreneur, a businesswoman, a friend and advisor to five US Presidents, including President Franklin Roosevelt, President Calvin Coolidge, President Herbert Hoover, and President Harry Truman. She was close friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, who actually had her own guest room in Dr. Bethune’s home. Dr. Bethune was also a passionate advocate for equality and black rights, and served as the National leader of the National Association of Colored Women. Her legacy lives on at Bethune-Cookman University where students “Enter to learn, and depart to serve.” This mantra lives on at the campus as students graduate and enter leadership positions all across the country.

Dr. Bethune Statue In Italy

Bethune-Cookman University Interim President Hiram Powell had this to share about the statue commissioning: “Being a son of Bethune-Cookman University, and a part of this sacred campus for over 40 years, I’ve seen a lot. Comings, goings, challenges, wins, losses, strife, diversity, but most importantly, I’ve seen and felt a tremendous impact from the work of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. This impact wasn’t simply because she was a tremendous educator, and a tremendous advocate for equality, she also had a tremendous drive to succeed. She was tenacious, she wouldn’t take no for an answer, she knew what she needed, and she would unceasingly work to achieve that need until it was completed. As we reflect upon her tremendous impact on our local community, it’s important for us all to seek inspiration from her footprints. 

It is my hope that Dr. Bethune’s legacy will march on inside of all us, and as the statue of her likeness is installed in Statuary Hall, may we all take the time to reflect on our contributions to our youth, to our local community, and to the world. May the spirit of Dr. Bethune live in all of our hearts, minds, and souls.”

Dr. Bethune and her legacy serve as a constant reminder that all are created equally, that everyone deserves the same educational opportunities, and that women of color can be agents of change and deserve a seat at the table. Welcoming Dr. Bethune back to Daytona Beach will be an honor, privilege and humbling experience for all that will witness it. May her spirit, legacy, and tenacity for equality rekindle in us all, a renewed drive to learn, serve, respect, and embrace each other, no matter what color our skin is.

IMAGES: Courtesy of Bethune-Cookman University and the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune statuary project