Jersey City unveiled a new bronze statue of the late civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune at Bethune Park on Saturday. The city says that it is the first statue citywide to honor an African American woman.
The nine-foot tall statue is located in front of the Bethune Park entrance right across from the Bethune Center, and is inspired by a younger version of Bethune in her late 20s to early 30s. It was unveiled with Mayor Steve Fulop, the City Council, and a number of community members in attendance.
“This statue of Ms. Bethune puts a special focus on the importance of education and perseverance, which will empower our residents now and for generations to come,” said Council President Joyce Watterman in a statement.
Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator and civil rights activist born in South Carolina in 1875, who helped educate African Americans, advocated for the rights of Black women, and went on to serve as an advisor for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“Upon my appointment as director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Life Center in 2013, I noticed a lack of representation of the historic civil rights leader within the very facility that bears her namesake,” said Alvin Petit, director of the Bethune Center. “I felt it was important for there to be an appropriate centerpiece to help brand the location as the community hub that it has become.”
The statue, which was designed by Petit, depicts embracing several books “as a symbol of her passion for knowledge and education as well as her legendary determination not to allow anyone to deny her of it.”
“Her facial expression embodies both her nature of defiance and optimism,” read the press release describing the statue. “The positioning of her body with her head turned east has her facing the rising sun and protectively overlooking the Bethune Center facility.”
The Bethune Park, where the statue is located, opened earlier this year on August 18, which includes new greenspace, an amphitheatre, and a playground. The statue was yet to be installed at the time.