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Bethune Statue Bill Ready For Full Florida House

Photo provided by The News Service of Florida
Mary McLeod Bethune

A proposal to place a statue of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune in the U.S. Capitol is ready to be considered by the full Florida House.

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved the proposal (HB 139), filed by Rep. Patrick Henry, D-Daytona Beach, and Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach.

The Senate has already approved its version of the proposal (SB 472), which would lead to the statue of Bethune replacing a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. Similar to a move by the Senate, the House Appropriations Committee made a tweak to the bill Thursday that would seek the return of the Smith statue to Florida.

The state Division of Cultural Affairs would then make the Smith statue available for public display. Each state is represented by two statues at the national hall, with Florida long represented by likenesses of Smith and John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.

Henry told the House panel Wednesday that lawmakers couldn’t “find a more deserving person than Dr. Bethune” to represent the state. Among other things, Bethune founded what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. “Dr. Bethune was a true stateswoman,” Henry said.