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- American educator and civil rights leader (1875-1955)
DAYTONA BEACH — The grand unveiling of the Mary McLeod Bethune sculpture in Washington, D.C., is going to be delayed by nearly four months.
The hope had been to formally present the masterfully chiseled white marble sculpture on Feb. 2 in the U.S. Capitol building's National Statuary Hall.
But COVID protocols made it impossible to throw the in-person gala that had been planned, said Nancy Lohman, head of the local committee that coordinated the creation and funding of the statue.
"I am so very sorry to deliver this news to you," Lohman wrote last week in an announcement sent to donors and supporters of the years-long statue project. "Please know that the statue is safe and in a secure location until the time of the unveiling."
The hope now is that the more than 3-ton work of art can be unveiled during a ceremony in Statuary Hall in May, Lohman said.
On Thursday morning, the board overseeing the statue project met and decided to ask the congressional delegation that represents the Volusia County area to request that the statue unveiling be held on May 18.
That's the day Bethune died in her Daytona Beach home at age 79 and "left all of us to follow in her footsteps and carry forward the tenets of her Last Will and Testament," Lohman said.
"It will be a day we come together – united – recognizing the significance of this powerful and historic moment as we unveil her magnificent statue," Lohman said. "It will be an opportunity to pay tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and ask for her spiritual guidance as we continue her work to build a better world."
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Waiting a few months for the unveiling will give the latest COVID surge time to ease, and it will allow a period of several weeks when Congress is not in session to pass.
An identical bronze statue of Bethune made by the same artist, South Florida master sculptor Nilda Comas, was going to be unveiled Feb. 22 at its new home in Daytona Beach's Riverfront Park. But that unveiling is also going to be pushed back to late May or June.
"Our bronze statue unveiling ceremony date will follow the marble statue unveiling, so Feb. 22 is no longer realistic," Lohman said. "The ceremony to unveil the bronze statue will most likely be within 30 days of the unveiling ceremony in Statuary Hall."
'In-person ceremony is very important'
On Thursday, the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund Board of Directors talked through moving the requested Feb. 2 unveiling date to a new day in hopes of an in-person celebration.
"I know an actual in-person ceremony is very important to all of us, and it is our hope to broadcast the event nationally," Lohman said. "The statue unveiling of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune deserves to be a momentous and historic tribute to her. The ceremony will celebrate and reinforce the significance of her legacy and all that she accomplished."
The Bethune statue will be the first depicting a Black American, male or female, to become a part of the National Statuary Hall State Collection. That will make the unveiling "a powerful, unifying and historic occasion," Lohman said.
The Washington, D.C., unveiling will be an invitation-only event for 100 people, a group that will include the individuals who represent the companies and philanthropists who gave generously in the early days of the fundraising campaign.
Read an in-depth story about Bethune's life: Mary McLeod Bethune's early 1900s achievements still helping Daytona Beach, nation
"These individuals or the companies they represent gave a minimum of $5,000 and many gave much more," Lohman said.
The statue group is still continuing with plans to have a formal black-tie reception the evening prior to the unveiling. There will also be a breakfast, lunch or afternoon reception the day of the ceremony either prior to or after the unveiling. Both events will be held at the Florida House, Florida’s state embassy, which is near the Capitol.
Who was Mary McLeod Bethune?
Bethune was born in 1875 in a small log cabin on a South Carolina rice and cotton farm. She grabbed every chance she got to educate herself, and her original dream was to be a missionary in Africa.
She was denied the chance to help people in Africa because she was Black, and by the early 1900s she wound up in Daytona Beach. In 1904 she founded a small school for Black girls in Daytona that evolved into Bethune-Cookman University.
She constantly did what she could to help local Black residents. Around 1905 she convinced city leaders to fund sidewalks and a uniformed and paid Black police force for Daytona Beach's Midtown neighborhood, where Black residents had to live.
She helped create a hospital for Black people in Midtown after one of her students was denied care at Halifax Hospital. She also partnered with a developer and investors to secure oceanfront land south of New Smyrna Beach so Daytona's Black residents could go to the beach without being harassed or ordered to leave.
She also got involved in the push to allow women to vote, and eventually her women's rights and civil rights activities took her to Washington, D.C.
She was the only African American woman to help the U.S. delegation that created the United Nations charter. She also created the National Council of Negro Women, directed the Office of Minority Affairs in the National Youth Administration, and became a general in the Women's Army for the National Defense.
You can reach Eileen at Eileen.Zaffiro@news-jrnl.com
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: The US Capitol unveiling of the Bethune statue will be in May or later