Forty-seven years, 1974, after the Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial was unveiled in Washington, D.C., a second statue to Bethune was unveiled in Jersey City on November 20, 2021. Almost a year later, on an early Sunday morning, the first day of Spring, March 20, 2022, Linda and I drove to Jersey City to view the statue. Nine-feet-tall on a two-and-half- foot marble pedestal, the bronze statue is positioned at the entrance to the newly constructed $3.5 million Mary McLeod Bethune Park with an amphitheater/concert stage, playground, and more. The first statue in Jersey City to honor a Black woman the memorial was designed by Alvin Petit, an artist and the director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Center that is directly across the street. Petit's vision was of Bethune in her "late 20s to early 30s." Her head is "turned east to face the rising sun and protectively overlooking the Bethune Center facility." She is depicted clutching books to underscore her passion for education. According to a press release, "Her facial expression embodies both her nature of defiance and optimism."
This representation of Mary McLeod Bethune is starkly different from the depiction of her in Washington, D.C. that I wrote about in my recent "MMB 1974" blog post. Her lower body posture and clinging garment are not representations that actual photographs of Bethune would even remotely suggest. What would Mary McLeod Bethune think of this depiction of her? Does that matter, i.e., what a historic woman would think about how she is represented? My next post will be about a Mary McLeod Bethune 2022 statue that I am sure would very much please her.
In Adventurous Women I wrote that Mary McLeod Bethune "was a living legend. People made pilgrimages to talk with her" at her cottage, the Retreat, on the campus of Bethune-Cookman College, (now a university). . . .She hoped that her philosophy would give people everywhere inspiration: 'I leave you love . . . I leave you hope . . .I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another . . . I leave you a thirst for education.. . . I leave you a respect for the uses of power . . .I leave you finally a responsibility to our young people.'"