US Capitol statue honors Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune

13 July, 2022
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, a civil rights leader and educator.

(State Archives of Florida/Coursen)

On Wednesday, July 13, a marble statue honoring Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1966)—renowned educator, civil rights leader, and notable Moody Bible Institute alumna—was dedicated at the US Capitol Building’s Statuary Hall in Washington, DC.

Bethune’s statue is one of two representing the state of Florida. She is the first black person, male or female, honored in the Statuary Hall collection. The 11-foot marble statue was sculpted in Italy by artist Nilda Comas. Five years in the making, Bethune’s statue is adorned with a graduation cap and a stack of books, signifying her lifelong commitment to education.

In one hand, Bethune holds a walking stick she received from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, one of several US presidents to whom she was an adviser. In the other hand, Bethune holds a black rose, a symbol she used to teach her students about their value in God’s eyes. Bethune said, “People, every single one of them, getting their full chance to become the best they can become.”

Statue of Mary McLeod BethuneThis statue of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune was unveiled and dedicated at the US Capitol Building's Statuary Hall in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Born in 1875 in South Carolina, Bethune was the daughter of former slaves, the first child to learn to read and write. In 1894, she pursued a Bible education at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago with the desire to serve as a missionary to Africa. After a mission board rejected her application, Bethune left for Florida. There she would establish a school for young girls, believing education was the key for opening doors to a brighter future. Her one-room school would later become Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Bethune consistently credited God as her guide and source of strength: “Even now I can hear my mother saying, ‘God leads the way, Mary.’ This held me fast through the years, and in all humility and sincerity I have endeavored to follow. The faith and determination which sustained me then helped me to make my dreams come true.”

Dr. Mary Cloutier, professor of Intercultural Studies at Moody Bible Institute, noted, “Mary had the willingness to deal with people of her time respectfully yet honestly. She might have been discouraged, but she did not give up on her God-given calling. She simply took all her training and funneled it into teaching children. She glorified God with it and produced lasting fruit on American soil.”

“Mary McLeod Bethune used everything, even the hard things and sadness in her life, to open doors for young people,” said Dr. Lisa Smith, program head of Elementary Education at Moody Bible Institute. “That’s what it is to be a Christian, really. It’s the epitome of what it is to be an educator, loving our students and loving God.”

Learn More!

“Whenever the Lord says no to me,” said Mary, “I look into my heart and search my motives. For it is only the selfless me that God can use.”

When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up

If you want to learn more about the life and legacy of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, check out the book, When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up written by Jamie Janosz. Bethune's story is among the eight women called to serve God and who, in doing so, changed the world. Learn more here: