‘Our hearts are rejoicing today’: Mary McLeod Bethune’s statue debuts at the Capitol’s Statuary Hall

WASHINGTON — An 11-foot marble statue of educator, activist and entrepreneur Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was unveiled at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

This is the first statue of an African American representing a state in National Statuary Hall.

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“Our hearts are rejoicing today seeing our founder and namesake take her rightful place among the most distinguished Americans here in the center of our democracy,” Lawrence Drake, Bethune-Cookman University’s interim president, said during an unveiling ceremony Wednesday. “No one could have predicted that this daughter of slaves would create a university, found a powerful political organization, advise presidents and inspire generations.”

Read: Biopic on the life of B-CU founder Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune in development

Students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered at the university, which Bethune founded, Wednesday for a watch party of the ceremony.

Alumna and retired university worker Daisy Grimes, who gathered signatures for a petition to get Bethune’s statue installed at the Capitol, attended that event.

“In spite of the obstacles -- and she had them, not only because she was a woman but she was Black -- but she never allowed any of those obstacles to prevent her from what her greater decision and desire was,” she said. “And that was to build this school.”

Read: Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune statue unveiled in Daytona Beach before move to U.S. Capitol

The 3-ton statue was sculpted by Florida artist Nilda Comas, the first Hispanic master sculptor chosen for the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Comas sculpted the statue in Pietrasanta, Italy, using a 11.5-ton block of statuario marble excavated from Michelangelo’s cave in Tuscany.

The statue was previously on display in Daytona Beach, where Bethune lived. It replaced that of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who was born in Florida.

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Read: How Mary McLeod Bethune created Bethune-Cookman University with $1.50 in her pocket

Jason Kelly

Jason Kelly, WFTV.com

Jason Kelly joined WFTV in 2014.