TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Monday signed a bill that will make Daytona Beach educator and civil rights icon Mary McLeod Bethune the first black American with a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall Collection.
Scott signed 30 bills into law and his office released the list Monday night, eight days after the annual legislative session ended.
The Bethune bill (SB 472) received nearly unanimous support in the House and Senate before getting Scott’s signature.
Bethune was born in South Carolina, the daughter of former slaves, and came to Daytona Beach as a young woman, starting in 1904 a private school for black students, which eventually became Bethune-Cookman University. She was active in the NAACP and served as an adviser to President Franklin Roosevelt and three other presidents, before her death in 1955.
Dr. Michelle Carter-Scott, chairwoman of the B-CU Board of Trustees, was pleased with the news.
“Today, it became official. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune will take her place in Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.,” Carter-Scott said. “This reminds us that this country’s rich history is inclusive of many races and outstanding accomplishments of men and women.
“Until January 2018, the university had never elected a female chairperson of the Board of Trustees. I am honored to be the first of what I hope to be many female leaders of this board. The glass ceiling is broken. Let us take wings and soar to new heights.”
Bethune’s statue will replace a likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.
Efforts to replace Smith’s statue began after nine people were killed in 2015 at a black church in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist, prompting a reevaluation of Confederate memorials across the country.
Lawmakers in 2016 approved replacing the Smith statue and organized a panel to recommend a replacement. Bethune was among three famed Floridians — environmental author Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Publix founder George Jenkins were the others — who were passed onto last year’s Legislature. But lawmakers got stuck and couldn’t agree on who to honor.
The legislation signed by Scott includes a provision that requires the Florida Department of State to retrieve the Smith sculpture and “make the statue available for public display.”
The state’s other representative in the hall is John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.
The Bethune bill was sponsored by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, Rep. Patrick Henry, D-Daytona Beach, and Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach.
B-CU plans to spearhead fund-raising efforts for the statue, whose full cost and installation is expected by state analysts to near $400,000.
The list of bills signed by Scott also included a measure that could make more permanent a controversial pregnancy “support services” program, a measure that will revamp regulations for the payday-loan industry, a plan to create a slavery memorial at the Capitol and a series of proposals dealing with health-care issues.