On Tuesday, officials in Lake County, Florida, unveiled a statue honoring American educator and civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune, who is best known for her work as an advocate in the Groveland Four case and her dedication to education in founding Bethune-Cookman University. Bethune’s statue was added to the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection on July 13. Now, Lake County has one of only three in the world.
“I’m inspired by the vision of the Lake County Historical Society in bringing this statue to our county,” Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks said. “Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune is a true patriot and an American hero. She was one of Florida’s greatest citizens and a hero to Lake County as well.” Important step: She was a leader in the civil rights movement. Now her statue will replace a Confederate general’s in the US Capitol.
A new statue of Mary McLeod Bethune, “a saint and a special person,” will be unveiled in Daytona Beach. Nilda Comas, an Italian sculptor, carved this likeness, which is identical to the one in Washington, DC. The statue’s marble originated from the same cave quarry as that of Michelangelo’s David statue in Washington, D.C.
The marble used to create this statue of Mary McLeod Bethune is the same as that used to create Michelangelo’s David, which is located in Washington, D.C. The Lake County Historical Society sent a small delegation to Italy to visit Comas in her studio and the quarry on their dime.
“We’ve been able to mirror the project for Statuary Hall,” Ray Powers said. “It was really, really special, and we were also able to attend the first unveiling in Washington D.C. This is a big accomplishment for our county. People need to learn how she contributed to furthering education and further the idea for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everyone.”
They say, “Her fame will spread like wildfire.” Comas was present at the unveiling and shared stories about the process of creating the statue. “This project started seven years ago and it had many delays,” Comas said. “But we had a wonderful blessing for the statue in Italy before it came over here. Then it was stuck on the ocean coming over here for longer than we had liked. But so many people have been touched by this sculpture. Her name is going to be known all over.”
Bethune, who was deeply committed to learning, is depicted in the statue wearing a graduation cap and gown. She’s got a black rose in her hand and a cane that looks like it was modeled after Roosevelt’s.
“President Roosevelt was her counselor and they were very close,” Comas said. “They took her to a rose garden one time and they handed her a black rose. She had never seen one, but it inspired her as she looked around to see the beauty of all the different colored roses together.”
That garden was dubbed by Bethune the International Garden of People and Races. Lake County Historical Museum is finishing up its Bethune exhibit at 317 W. Main St., Tavares. In a few weeks, it can be shown to the public.