Bethune Leads Statuary Hall Replacements In Public Survey

Jun 20, 2016

Mary McLeod Bethune
Credit Florida State Archives

A state historical council asked who should represent Florida in Washington D.C.’s Statuary Hall, and the results are clear.  The public heavily favors educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune.

The Great Floridians Program tallied more than 3,000 recommendations spread across 129 historical figures.  But Bethune ran away with it, collecting 1,233 of those votes—almost three times more the second highest vote getter.  Bethune is best known for the college that bears her name.

But Ashley Robertson says that’s just the beginning.  She teaches history at the school and curates the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation—a museum housed in Bethune’s former home. 

Robertson says starting with Calvin Coolidge, Bethune was an advisor to four U.S. presidents.  “She was also a part of the national youth administration.  She was in charge of black affairs, making her the first African American woman to head a federal agency.”

“Thereafter she was also a consultant to the founding of the United Nations in 1945 in San Francisco,” Robertson says.

State lawmakers began the process to replace Edmund Kirby Smith in Statuary Hall earlier this year.  The confederate general is one of two figures representing Florida in Washington D.C. 

Miami Republican Representative Jose Diaz co-sponsored the measure tasking the Great Floridians Program with recommending three names ahead of next year’s legislative session.   He says it’s good to see so many recommendations for people of color.

“It’s great to see diverse options,” Diaz says.  “Less than ten percent of the statues in statuary hall that are women so to not only be looking at a female candidate, but a female candidate of color, is just an amazing testament to our state.”

The public recommendation isn’t binding, but Diaz says Bethune’s overwhelming support bodes well.  The Great Floridians committee meets Wednesday to begin discussing which three figures it will send to the Legislature for final approval.