The marble likeness, which was first unveiled in Daytona Beach, will head to Washington, D.C., where it will replace a statue of a Confederate general. “She taught us how to live in harmony. She taught us how to achieve despite obstacles,” Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry said.
It is a milestone many years in the making, but the larger-than-life figure will be placed on display in Bethune’s home state of Florida for several months before taking its place in the nation’s capital in early 2022, according to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL).
The late, great Dr. Bethune was a dedicated warrior who fought for equal rights and founded Bethune-Cookman University. She also led the Black Cabinet during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. The 11-foot statue, which weighs more than 6,000 lbs., was taken out of the largest (and last) piece of statuary marble from Michelangelo’s quarry in Italy. Nilda Comas, the first Hispanic master carver to create for the National Statuary Hall State Collection, sculpted the piece and was selected from a field of 1,600 applicants.
Dr. Bethune’s statue will replace that of a Confederate general in the U.S. Capitol, which will return to Florida’s capitol.
“She gave her life to make things different and better,” Evelyn Bethune, one of three living grandchildren in the family, said while in the crowd at the celebration Monday. “When I look at her statue it’s like the realization of her faith. Bethune-Cookman has that same faith. To be able to build a college on a garbage dump is an outstanding accomplishment,” she continued.
The foundation behind the statue went through four years of discussion before the approval and creation of the sculpture began. Depicting Dr. Bethune wearing a cap and gown and her ever-present pearl necklace, she holds a black rose in one hand and a walking stick in the other. She stands tall in front of a stack of books, with a warm smile, and will surely inspire those who view it.
The base of the pedestal has her birth name, home state, birth and death dates inscribed, along with one of her most famous quotes: “Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it may be a diamond in the rough.”
In addition to founding Bethune-Cookman University, she became the first person in her family to inspire others to stress the importance of education-as-liberation in their own households.
She later became an advisor to four U.S. presidents and fought for issues like land rights and equal access to health care for Black people in Volusia County.