Bill to replace general with Bethune passes in Florida House


Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was
photographed by Carl Van Vechten. Along with the
founder of Bethune-Cookman, she was a civil rights

The Florida House of Representatives passed SB 472, a bill that formally request the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress approve the replacement of Confederate General, Edmund Kirby Smith’s statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection with a statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.

During the 2016 legislative session, the Florida Legislature voted to remove the statue of Smith during a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols in wake of the 2015 shooting deaths of nine African- American worshipers in a Black church in Charleston, S.C., yet the bill did not name a replacement.

The legislation was sponsored by Senator Perry Thurston in the Florida Senate and by Representative Patrick Henry in the Florida House.

‘True stateswoman’
An alumnus of the university, Henry said, “Dr. Bethune was a true stateswoman. Not only was she an acclaimed educator and founder of Bethune-Cookman University (originally known as the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls), she was a courageous social activist and she served our nation honorably as the first African-American woman to head a federal agency, serving as the director of the Division of Negro Affairs during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration.’’

Thursday, the Senate bill sponsor and advocate for the university, said, “Bethune’s life and values illustrate the best of Florida. Choosing her likeness for the Hall sends a powerful signal to the world that Floridians recognize our state’s rich history and its present-day diversity. Florida has a golden opportunity to make a bold statement. Bethune belongs in Statutory Hall.’’

First African-American
Last year, when the decision was made to replace the statue of Smith, Bethune overwhelming received the highest number of recommendations when an online poll was conducted by the ad hoc committee created within the Division of Historical Resources and Division of Cultural Affairs.

Once signed into law by the Governor, Bethune will be the first African-American represented by a state in the United States Capitol.



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