Before the Civil Rights Movement, there was Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. Born to former slaves born in 1875 on a farm in South Carolina, she went on to help found one of the first historically Black universities, along with a host of other educational and civic programs.
Before the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, when the removal of Confederate statues was thrust into the national spotlight once again, Yolanda Cash Jackson, in 2018, successfully advocated to have the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith removed and one of Dr. Bethune erected in its place in National Statuary Hall, where each state is allowed two statues. (The other belongs to inventor and scientist, John Gorrie).
Bethune’s inclusion is appropriate, as she was an advisor to five presidents, including President Franklin Roosevelt, and she played a role in the founding of numerous educational and civil rights organizations: Bethune-Cookman University, which partly bears her name; the United Negro College Fund; the National Council of Negro Women; and the Council of Negro Affairs. Many would be lucky to accomplish any one feat alone.
The change was made through an intensive lobbying effort that Jackson spearheaded, and involved an unlikely partnership with the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy. The bill passed both the Florida House and Senate, and made Florida the first state to honor an African-American woman in National Statuary Hall.