The U.S. Capitol, a building constructed by Black slaves and which was overrun on Jan. 6, 2021 by overwhelmingly white rioters in support of a racist president, is home to a new statue of one of the nation’s most important Black educators.
An effigy of Mary McLeod Bethune was unveiled in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall this afternoon. Bethune, a Florida native who lived from 1875 until 1955, was a founder of the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, now known as Bethune-Cookman University. The sculpture of her is the first one of a Black person to be installed in Statuary Hall, an exhibit in the Capitol that features statues of two historical figures from each state. Those individuals are decided on by the states’ own governors and legislatures, not Congress or the official government caretakers of the building itself.
The Washington Post broke down how Bethune was selected to represent Florida:
Since 1864, each state has been able to send two statues of distinguished citizens to represent it in the U.S. Capitol, constituting the National Statuary Hall collection. Since 2000, states have been able to remove and replace existing statues with new ones. A handful of states have done so, but until Wednesday none of those new additions depicted Black Americans.
The statue of Bethune replaces one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. The change was directed by a state law signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) in 2018. The Smith statue was removed in 2021.
The Post notes that Virginia replaced its own Confederate statue in the exhibit last year and Arkansas plans to replace two such statues, but there’s no timeline for that to happen. Seven other Confederate statues are still there with no apparent plans for replacement, which begs the question, “How?” given the Confederacy was literally a violent attempt to secede from the U.S. government, the legislative branch of which occupies the building where those statues stand.