Statue of Florida civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune is now likely to replace one of a Confederate leader in DC

Lawmakers helped seal the deal earlier this week.

Mary McLeod Bethune, pictured here with students, was a trailblazer for education and civil rights in Florida. - Public Domain Photo
Public Domain Photo
Mary McLeod Bethune, pictured here with students, was a trailblazer for education and civil rights in Florida.

With all the partisan rancor in Tallahassee these days, it's tough to imagine Republicans and Democrats coming together to pass a bill.

But they did so earlier this week in honor of one of Florida's earliest and most prolific educators and civil rights leaders, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.

On Tuesday, the Florida House of Representatives almost unanimously passed a resolution asking that a statue of Bethune replace one of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith at National Statuary Hall in Washington, DC. The vote tally comprised 111 for the replacement and 1 against it. The sole dissenter, according to News Service of Florida, was Jay Fant, a Jacksonville Republican who's currently running for attorney general.

The state senate approved the resolution January 31. Governor Rick Scott still has to sign an order to make the request official — and he appears likely to do so. A congressional committee overseeing the Library of Congress also has to approve.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa) sent a letter urging that committee to approve the change.

National Statuary Hall is a place where statues depicting prominent Americans are on display.

In 2016, the legislature had voted to remove Kirby from the hall in response to the 2015 shooting that left nine dead at a black church in North Charleston, S.C.

But the question of whose likeness would replace it remained up for debate.

Born in 1875, Bethune was a human rights, civil rights and education leader who founded the Daytona Beach school that ultimately became Bethune-Cookman University, one of five historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Florida.

She was just 29 when she founded the the school, known then as the Daytona Literary and Institutional Training School for Negro Girls. The school quickly merged with another and eventually evolved into what it is today.

Bethune went on to advise multiple U.S. presidents and become an inspiration for civil rights leaders.

“Dr. Bethune was a true stateswoman," State Rep. Patrick Henry, a Bethune-Cookman University alum said in a written statement heralding the change. "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), but 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."

“Bethune’s life and values illustrate the best of Florida," said State Sen. Perry Thurston, who sponsored the bill in his chamber. "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."

Castor's letter referred to Bethune as "an outstanding Floridian who represents our diverse population and the essence of our dynamic Sunshine State."

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