The Bethune-Cookman University has been marveling the beautiful towering statue of the university’s founder Mary McLeod Bethune all week. Perched inside the building of the News-Journal Center in Daytona Beach, the statue will be on display until it is moved into its final home at the US Capitol. Learn how the statue will make history in the Daytona Beach News-Journal article by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean below.
For four years, local residents have followed the evolution of the idea to have a Mary McLeod Bethune sculpture representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol Building.
On Tuesday, they got their first chance to stand within a few feet of the new marble work of art that will be on display at the News-Journal Center in Daytona Beach until Dec. 12. They were not disappointed.
“I’m blown away,” said Karsceal Turner, a 2009 graduate of the school Bethune founded, Bethune-Cookman University. “To have Dr. Bethune represent us in Washington, D.C., is a great feeling. I’m proud to be a son of the legacy.”
After hearing about the twists and turns of the statue’s creation, including securing government approvals and raising $850,000, people were eager to see the sculpture in person. There was a line in front of the News-Journal Center before the doors opened shortly after 10 a.m., and a steady stream of visitors continued throughout the morning and into the afternoon.
Once they got in front of the statue, just about everybody had their phones out and started taking pictures and videos.
Early next year, the statue will be crated and trucked up to Washington, D.C., to take its place in the Capitol Building. Bethune will be the first Black person, male or female, to be honored in the Capitol’s state collection of statues.
Turner brought his 3-year-old son to the exhibit Tuesday to start teaching him about the woman who was born to former slaves and went on to become the only Black woman to help the U.S. delegation that created the United Nations charter.
Bethune also created the National Council of Negro Women, directed the Office of Minority Affairs in the National Youth Administration, and helped women gain the right to vote. She was an advisor to five U.S. presidents.
“She opened so many doors, and she’s still opening doors,” Turner said.
Little Kameron Turner wasn’t quite as impressed with the history lesson, or the 11-foot-tall statue that was sculpted in a 1,000-year-old artists’ colony on the Tuscan coast of Italy. After playfully running laps around his father, the tyke just wanted to know if he could ride the escalator in the News-Journal building.
‘It represents Florida quite well’
Most of the people who decided to check out the Bethune sculpture Tuesday were drinking in the history on display throughout the exhibit. The story of Bethune’s life and the creation of the statue are told throughout the News-Journal Center lobby on dozens of informational displays that include plenty of historic black and white photos.
A short film on Bethune plays in a small room off the lobby, and an audio recording of her speaking can be heard near the statue display.
“I went to Bethune-Cookman University, and this is the first time I’m hearing her voice,” said Caleb Mack Jr., who attended the school from 1980 to 1984.
Bethune’s high-pitched voice with a determined tone is not what many people say they expected to hear. Mack sat under the speaker at the exhibit so he could record the audio on his phone.
“She sounds like Eleanor Roosevelt,” he said, referring to the former First Lady who became a good friend of Bethune. “It’s an eloquent voice; very intelligent. … She needed to talk that way to be accepted.”
Mack was also impressed with the statue, which he said is “excellent” and “a testament to her life.”
“I think it represents Florida quite well so the world can see its glory,” he said.
Like others seeing the three-ton statue for the first time, Mack was captured by its eyes looking down toward visitors.
“It’s like it stares back at you,” he said.
‘An honor to be in the presence’
There was a mix of people coming to see the statue Tuesday: Black and white, young and old. Some had also come from out of town to see the work of art, including Dorothy and Herman Hart of Miami.
The Harts figured a trip to Daytona Beach was easier than a trip to Washington, D.C. They were glad they made the effort.
“It’s an honor to be in the presence of this beautiful marble statue,” Dorothy Hart said. “We took a lot of pictures.”
She said she knows several people who attended Bethune-Cookman University, so she learned about Bethune through them.
“She has given so much,” Dorothy Hart said.
Jaron Williams, a 2014 graduate of Bethune-Cookman University, said he was feeling Bethune’s presence as he gazed at the towering white marble statue.
“It’s a very lifelike resemblance,” Williams said. “It’s truly a gift as a former student of Bethune-Cookman. This is one of those monumental moments to see your founder back in the city where it started.”
He hopes the statue “brings more of an appreciation for cultural diversity.”
“I recommend people come and learn about the history of the school and Mary McLeod Bethune,” Williams said.
Pamela Douglas was enjoying every minute of seeing the new statue.
“It’s mesmerizing to me,” said Douglas, whose son attended Bethune-Cookman University. “It’s wonderful. It’s lovely. Very inspirational. I couldn’t wait to come. For something that will be in the U.S. Capitol, to have it first in Daytona Beach, I really appreciate that.”
View the statue
WHAT: Public viewing of the Mary McLeod Bethune statue
WHERE: News-Journal Center, 221 N. Beach St., Daytona Beach
WHEN: 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. daily through Dec. 12. Those who want to view the statue will need a free ticket for one of six daily time slots. Tickets are available at mmbstatue.org. Viewings will be held seven days a week.