Jul 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Statue honoring Black educator replaces Confederate general at U.S. Capitol

Mary McLeod Bethune. Photo: Carl Van Vechten Collection/Getty Images

A statue of Black educator Mary McLeod Bethune replaced the statue of a Confederate general in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.

Why it matters: Mary McLeod Bethune is the first Black American to have a state statue in the hall. She replaces Edmund Kirby Smith, who was among the last to surrender at the end of the Civil War in 1865.

The big picture: Bethune was an adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and an advocate for Black Americans from the schoolhouse to the White House.

  • She founded a university that became Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black university in Daytona Beach, Florida.

What they're saying: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the unveiling ceremony called the replacement "trading a traitor for a civil rights hero."

  • Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) said at the event, "Today we are rewriting the history we want to share with our future generations. We are replacing a remnant of hatred and division with a symbol of hope and inspiration."
  • Lawrence Drake II, the interim president of Bethune-Cookman University, said at the ceremony, "Our hearts are rejoicing today seeing our founder and namesake take her rightful place among the most distinguished Americans."

Meanwhile, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who signed a bill in 2018 to commission the statue when he was Florida's governor, said in a statement that he hoped "that American families will learn from her legacy for decades to come."

Flashback: Last year, the House voted 285-120 to remove statues of Confederate generals from the Capitol.

  • A Senate version of the bill was introduced last year but has not advanced.
  • Overall, more than 70 Confederate statues were removed or renamed in 2021 after protests against police violence and racism put a renewed focus on the monuments.
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