WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wednesday was a day of history at the U.S. Capitol.

A statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune of Florida became the first likeness of an African American to represent a state in the National Statuary Hall Collection.

What You Need To Know

  • A marble statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was unveiled Wednesday at National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol

  • Bethune is the first Black American to be immortalized in the Statuary Hall

  • She started a school for young Black girls, was elected president of National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs and later started her own organization, the National Council of Negro Women, which still exists today

Adding to the significance, her statue replaces a likeness of a Confederate general. 

Bethune was a pioneer for the advancement of African American women and their education. 

Master sculptor Nilda Comas was chosen out of 1,600 artists to create Bethune’s statue. 

"Some of the things that I learned was so much about what she accomplished, but some of the things that I really like about her personality, is that she was so kind so sensitive," Comas said. "And she kept her goals always in mind, but not hurting anyone. She just acted out of love and respect and her ideals." 

In 1904, Bethune founded ​what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. 

Four years ago, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation to commission her statue to replace the figure of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith, which that had stood at the capitol nearly a century.

Comas created the Bethune's sculpture in Italy with marble that came from the same location Michelangelo sourced stone from to create his sculpture of David.

She said her creation of Bethune has many symbolic features. 

"She's dressed in cap and gown because she represents education," Comas said. "That was her biggest goal and what got her where she got to accomplish so many other things for civil rights."

​Also of significance is the black rose Bethune is holding. Comas said Bethune first saw black roses during a visit to Switzerland and marveled at their beauty. 

The project was largely made possible by Central Floridian and Philanthropist Nancy Lohman, who helped raise just under $1 million for the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund, which she chairs. 

She says Bethune represents the best of Florida. ​

"Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was considered one of the mothers of the struggle," Lohman said. "She was a suffragette. She fought for women's rights. She was a civil rights activist. She fought for equal employment opportunities. She fought for education — she championed education — and she realized that education and the advancement of someone's education advanced them socially and economically."

As Bethune takes her place in history, so will Comas. There are 100 figures in the National Statuary Hall Collection, two representing each state.

While the statues have changed over the years, Comas is the first Hispanic artist to sculpt one of them.

"I hope she's in heaven looking at us and saying, 'I love it,'" Comas said.