Before members of the Mary McLeod Bethune Statuary Fund gathered to kick off the campaign to raise money for the placement of a statue of the revered educator and civil rights icon in the U.S. Capitol, the goal to raise $400,000 might have seemed a tall order. But by the time the event on April 18, 2018, was over, Nancy Lohman already knew it would be a success.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” said Lohman, president of the Statuary Fund. “It ended up being as inspirational an event as I have ever attended.”
Lohman was not the only one inspired by the mission to make the dream of Bethune’s inclusion in the National Statuary Hall a reality. Eager donors stood up and opened their hearts and their checkbooks.
“There was actually a receiving line of checks being presented to us,” Lohman said. “I think [at] that moment in time we raised $126,000. It was incredible. I knew from the very beginning of our efforts that raising $400,000 would not be a heavy lift.”
In fact, the response to the campaign kickoff was so overwhelming, Statuary Fund board members decided to up the ante and set a higher fundraising goal for the creation of a second statue, a bronze likeness of the marble piece destined for Washington D.C., to become part of the Riverfront Esplanade Park project on Beach Street.
“Commissioning the bronze statue was an additional $150,000 that we agreed should be raised so that the city of Daytona Beach could celebrate Mary McLeod Bethune and champion efforts to showcase her extraordinary life,” Lohman said.
But the fundraising effort didn’t stop there. Lohman said her board committed to raising another $150,000 to create a feature-length documentary and K-12 curriculum module highlighting the life and legacy of Dr. Bethune as told through the symbolism of the statue. They enthusiastically expanded their vision again with an additional $100,000 to host the statue in an exhibit in Daytona Beach prior to her placement in the U.S. Capitol. In total, they will raise more than $800,000 to provide the total scope of the statuary project.
Finding the time in her already busy schedule to take on the task of raising money for a project that hit close to home but would be realized far away was an easy choice for Lohman.
“I feel that this is one of the best contributions I could ever make with my time,” she said. “It is a way I can help create an appreciation for the significance of Mary McLeod Bethune’s life-long work as a remarkable civil rights leader and educator, and personally support our continued focus on moving social justice forward.”
Bob Lloyd, who serves as vice chairman of the Statuary Fund board, shares Lohman’s passion for the project.
“This was a historic project that could not possibly fail,” he said. “Without state funding and with her namesake university struggling financially, the Mary McLeod Bethune statue project had its challenges. But the upside potential of giving this internationally respected leader, who called Daytona Beach home, a permanent place of recognition in the U.S. Capitol representing the State of Florida was easy to visualize.”
Lloyd said despite the challenge of fundraising in general he was confident the effort would succeed.
“We live in a great community,” he said. “While our community may have its challenges and struggles, we care for each other and the legacy we leave for future generations.”
For Lohman and the other members of the Statuary Fund board, the selection of Mary McLeod Bethune to represent the State of Florida in the National Statuary Hall is about more than just honoring Bethune’s legacy but carries significant meaning and purpose as the nation continues to struggle with issues of race, class and gender.
Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry who serves as a statuary fund board member concurs. “This is an opportunity to immerse yourself in her words, to allow yourself to learn from her experiences,” he said. “Learn from the things she overcame. When you find yourself in a moment where you are challenged, look back to how she did it.”
“Mary McLeod Bethune inspires us to build a better world,” Lohman said. “Her statue reminds us that representation matters, and her story reminds us to never underestimate our ability to make a difference. She was one of the greatest Floridians in our history.”
Lohman and her fellow board members see the decision by the State of Florida to replace the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith with one of Bethune as more than a celebration of inclusion and an acknowledgment of the famed educator’s impact on the community. It is a teachable moment as well.
To that end, the creation of the documentary and school curriculum will provide students from kindergarten through high school the opportunity to learn about Mary McLeod Bethune.
“The statue allows us to tell the story of Mary McLeod Bethune through its symbolism,” Lohman said. “Every child growing up needs to learn about Mary McLeod Bethune.”
Lohman said the chance to tell Bethune’s story to a new generation is timelier than ever today.
“We have this beautiful opportunity to focus on telling the story of Mary McLeod Bethune and learn from her lifetime achievements. The symbolism of Dr. Bethune in a cap and gown represents her value of education, the cane FDR presented to her represents her commitment to advancing opportunities for African Americans and women, the stack of books each sculpted with a different tenant of her last will and testament speak to her core values. The black rose symbolizes her belief that “loving thy neighbor” means interracial, inter-religious and international brotherhood and her facial expression captures her determined yet gentle demeanor,” she said.
For Lloyd, the impact of the Statuary Fund effort goes beyond Daytona Beach and Florida.
“I believe the statue does not just honor the life and legacy of Dr. Bethune,” he said. “It also represents what we value in ourselves as citizens of Daytona Beach, Volusia County, Florida and the United States of America. Mary McLeod Bethune represents the best of us and what we aspire to be.”