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SPLC statement on Florida vote to replace statue of Confederate soldier with likeness of African-American pioneer at U.S. Capitol

The National Statuary Hall Collection welcomes two statues from each state to be displayed at our nation’s Capitol to commemorate people of historic renown. 

For more than a century, Florida has been represented by two white men: Dr. John Gorrie, who is considered the father of refrigeration and air conditioning, and Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

In what some might consider an act of poetic justice, the Florida House and Senate have voted to replace the bust of Smith – a man who fought to enslave and oppress an entire group of people based on the color of their skin – with the statue of a woman who was a child of formerly enslaved Africans.

Mary McLeod Bethune founded a boarding school for girls, which merged with an all-boys school to create what we now know as Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Daytona Beach.

Bethune also founded the National Council of Negro Women, an organization that seeks to advance the opportunities and quality of life for African-American women, their families and their communities. She participated in both the civil rights and gender equality movements.

Bethune will become the only African-American – and one of just a handful of women – to be memorialized in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Sending a statue of Bethune to Washington, D.C. is a step in the right direction toward providing black Americans – particularly women – with recognition for their contributions to our state and our nation.

It is time for us to honor the diverse individuals who forged the way for us and for future generations. We hope this is only the beginning.