An event celebrating the statue unveiling on Wednesday was attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn as well as other lawmakers and activists.
Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida spoke at the event, saying, “I am proud to be a Floridian this morning, because the people of the state of Florida have sent the great educator and civil rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune to represent our dynamic and diverse state — the first to be represented by a Black American in National Statuary Hall.”
Praising the civil rights pioneer, Castor said, “she devoted her life to equal rights and service.”
“We lift her up today at a time of competing ideologies to help heal and unify through her example.”
The daughter of formerly enslaved people, Bethune became an influential Black educator and civil and women’s rights leader. She opened a boarding school for Black children in 1904, which later became Bethune-Cookman University.
Bethune led voter registration drives after women gained the right to vote in 1920.
She served as an adviser to five US presidents. Bethune was named director of the National Youth Administration’s Office of Negro Affairs under President Franklin Roosevelt. She was also friends with the President and then-first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
In recent years, momentum has grown for the removal of Confederate statues from places of prominence across the United States.