THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, would replace a Confederate general as one of Florida’s representatives in a set of statues at the U.S. Capitol, under a proposal filed Wednesday by state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale.
Thurston’s proposal (SCR 1360) came after measures were filed in the House and Senate (HCR 507 and SCR 760) that call for a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who wrote “The Everglades: River of Grass” and campaigned tirelessly for environmental protection, to replace Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the National Statuary Hall in Washington.
Statues of Smith and John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning, have long represented Florida in the hall.
The Florida Legislature voted last year to replace Smith’s statue amid a backlash against Confederate symbols following the 2015 shooting deaths of nine African-American worshippers at a historic Black church in Charleston, S.C.
Last June, Bethune appeared to be the favorite to replace Smith, getting the votes of all the members of the Great Floridians Committee. The committee was charged with helping pick Florida’s new figure.
Bethune, Douglas and George Washington Jenkins Jr., founder of the iconic Publix grocery stores that dot Florida’s cities, were the committee’s finalists for the honor.
In addition to being the only nominee to get the votes of all four members of the committee, Bethune was also the runaway leader among members of the public who submitted names to a website last June. She received 1,237 recommendations, more than a third of the total. Jenkins was third with 418 recommendations and Douglas was fourth with 270.
The Douglas statue resolutions are sponsored by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, and Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami.
Bethune was born in 1875 in South Carolina and was the child of formerly enslaved Africans, according to the website of Bethune-Cookman University. She died in 1955.
If selected, Bethune would be the hall’s first African-American woman commissioned by a state. Rosa Parks was added by Congress.
Bethune is also honored at Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C.