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A statue of civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune will represent Florida the U.S. Capitol

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A marble statue of educator and civil-rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune will be unveiled Wednesday to represent Florida in the National Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.

The likeness of Bethune will replace a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, which stood in the Capitol for nearly a century. Bethune, who died in 1955, will be the first Black person to represent a state in the collection.

“Dr. Bethune’s story and legacy is one that resonates with so many Floridians and Americans, and countless generations of visitors will now learn about her life’s work as an educator, civil-rights leader, and force for good,” U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., said in a statement.

Bethune in 1904 founded what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach and later served as an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt.

Funded by donations through the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Project, the statue was crafted in Italy by sculptor Nilda Comas.

Florida lawmakers in 2016 voted to replace the Smith statue amid a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols that followed the 2015 shooting deaths of nine Black worshippers at a historic Black church in Charleston, S.C. The Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Scott approved the use of Bethune’s likeness in 2018.

The Smith statue was removed from the U.S. Capitol in September after representing Florida since 1922. The St. Augustine-born Smith commanded Confederate forces west of the Mississippi during the Civil War and spent his later years as a college professor in Tennessee.

The statue has gone to the state’s Museum of Florida History, but no plans have been announced to publicly display it.

Each state is represented by two statues in the National Statuary Hall. Florida’s other statue depicts John Gorrie, who is widely considered the father of air conditioning.

The News Service of Florida