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A statue honoring Mary McLeod Bethune is unveiled at the U.S. capitol

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Mary McLeod Bethune was a civil rights activist and the daughter of former slaves. Now her statue stands in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall. She's the first African American to be honored there. From member station WMFE in Orlando, Danielle Prieur reports.

DANIELLE PRIEUR, BYLINE: Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator, activist and founder of Bethune-Cookman University, or BCU. That's a historically Black college in Daytona Beach. The 11-foot-tall statue of her was designed by a Latina sculptor, another first for statues in Statuary Hall. Nilda Comas carved it from white marble excavated from Michelangelo's cave in Tuscany. Tasha Youmans, who's dean of BCU's library, says the sculpture captures Bethune. She wears a graduation cap and gown and holds a black rose in one hand. It was her favorite flower.

TASHA YOUMANS: We know her accomplishments, but now for us, the world will know her accomplishments and just how significant she is to United States history.

PRIEUR: On Wednesday, a group of students and community members gathered at the college Bethune founded to watch a live feed of the unveiling of her statue at the U.S. Capitol. When the long black cloth was lifted, the room broke into a standing ovation.

(CHEERING)

PRIEUR: Sonya Poteat is a BCU grad. She's a teacher like her grandparents and parents, who were all inspired by Bethune. She was the first one on her feet, overcome by the moment.

SONYA POTEAT: And everything that we've gone through and transcended to know that we are definitely a great people, and this is such a great honor to be in the Capitol building in the greatest country in the world.

PRIEUR: On Capitol Hill, Bethune's statue replaces that of a Confederate general. Republican Florida Congressman Mike Waltz says that's fitting because Bethune stood up to injustice.

MIKE WALTZ: She stood up to divisiveness. She stood up to, you know, hatred based on someone's skin color.

PRIEUR: And above all, Bethune believed in people's potential. Her sculpture is inscribed with one of her favorite sayings, quote - "invest in the human soul. Who knows? It might be a diamond in the rough."

For NPR News, I'm Danielle Prieur. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Prieur