Posted on July 13, 2022

Capitol Statue Collection Gets First Black American, Replacing Confederate

Gillian Brockell, Washington Post, July 13, 2022

A statue of Mary McLeod Bethune was unveiled Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol, making her the first Black American in the National Statuary Hall collection.

Bethune was a civil rights activist, a presidential adviser and the founder of the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, which became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. Her statue represents the state of Florida.


Since 1864, each state has been able to send two statues of distinguished citizens to represent it in the U.S. Capitol, constituting the National Statuary Hall collection. Since 2000, states have been able to remove and replace existing statues with new ones. A handful of states have done so, but until Wednesday none of those new additions depicted Black Americans.

The statue of Bethune replaces one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. The change was directed by a state law signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) in 2018. The Smith statue was removed in 2021.

The Bethune statue will be joined by others in the next few years. Virginia removed its statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in 2020 and plans to replace it with one of civil rights leader Barbara Johns. In 2019, Arkansas decided to replace both its statues — of white supremacist James Paul Clarke and Confederate sympathizer Uriah Milton Rose — with depictions of civil rights activist Daisy Bates and musician Johnny Cash, though both of the old statues remain in the Capitol.


Although the Bethune statue is the first of a Black American in the Statuary Hall collection, it is not the first statue of a Black American in the Capitol building. There are also statues of Frederick Douglass and Rosa Parks, and busts of Martin Luther King Jr. and Sojourner Truth. {snip}