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Mary McLeod Bethune – A Life of Dignity & Public Service Honored in National Statuary Hall

Painting of Mary McLeod Bethune with caption: Mary McLeod Bethune, a live of dignity and public service honored
Image via Wikimedia Commons | Columbia County Observer graphic

A statue of Mary McLeod Bethune has been installed in National Statuary Hall, replacing imagery of a racist Confederate leader.

In 2021, the House passed HR 3005 requiring removal of every statue of individuals “who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America” from display in the Capitol. The resolution awaits Senate approval.

Learn More:
The Extraordinary Live of Mary McLeod Bethune

In his 1956 autobiography, titled I Wonder as I Wander, Langston Hughes vividly recalled being invited by Mary Bethune to give a reading at Bethune-Cookman College in 1929.

After the event, Bethune hitched a ride with the young poet back to New York City. In the time of Jim Crow, where Black travelers were required to carry an Automobile Blue Book that listed the way stops in which African Americans were allowed to stop for meals, restrooms, or for sleeping accommodations, Hughes noted that Bethune avoided much of the indignity of segregated facilities along the long road to New York.

He said, “Colored people along the eastern seaboard spread a feast and opened their homes wherever Mrs. Bethune passed their way.” In fact, he continued, “chickens, sensing that she was coming, went flying off frantically seeking a hiding place. They knew a heaping platter of southern fried chicken would be made in her honor.”

The SPLC Action Fund welcomes the removal of another symbol of hate from the U.S. Capitol. Whether apologists for the Confederacy or the institution of slavery, uplifting men who are forever linked to racial terror and oppression sends the wrong message to both American and global visitors alike.

Honoring civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune in National Statuary Hall is a fitting tribute to a Black woman who is the daughter of former slaves. She devoted her life to public service as an educator, as well as an advocate for public health, women’s rights, racial and gender equality, and voting rights. By serving as presidential advisor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Bethune dispelled racial stereotypes and attitudes reinforced during the Jim Crow era. We can all take pride in her achievements on behalf of Black Americans and women.

But there is still work to do, as statues of men who voluntarily fought on behalf of the Confederacy remain in Statuary Hall. We call on Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina to get on the right side of history by replacing these statues with someone that represents their state’s values of diversity, equality, and justice.

We also ask the U.S. Senate – why is it taking so long to do what’s right?The SPLC Action Fund continues urging the Senate to pass HR 3005 and for President Joe Biden to promptly sign this legislation so that offensive statues littering the National Statuary Hall Collection can immediately be returned to their home states.”

Lecia Brooks is Chief of Staff and Culture for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

SPLC Action Fund is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people.

Callouts and some links added by the Observer. The Extraordinary Live of Mary McLeod Bethune added by the Observer.

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