Mary McLeod Bethune, an African American teacher, was one of the great educators in United States history. She was a leader of women, an adviser to several American presidents, and a powerful champion of equality among races consulting with world figures seeking to build universal peace through the United Nations.
She is remembered for improving educational opportunities for African Americans; president, National Association of Colored Women; founder, National Council of Negro Women. Her statue in Washington, DC, was the first statue depicting any woman or African American in any park in the nation's capital. Her home is a National Historic Landmark.
She was the first African American women in the United States to establish a school that later became an accredited four-year college, Bethune-Cookman College. As a New Deal government official, she was in one of the 20 highest-level offices held by women in the administration--and the highest held by an African American woman.
She had humble beginnings. Born in 1875 on a Mayesville, South Carolina plantation to freed slaves just after the Emancipation, she was the first of her large family to be born free. Her parents were able to evidently purchase a small farm. At age 11, she enrolled in a Presbyterian missionary-run school where she would return home to share what she learned with her family.
She earned a scholarship to attend a school for African American girls in Concord, North Carolina. It was here she developed lasting relationships with teachers, both African American and White—and a love of music. After graduation from the Chicago Moody Bible Institute in 1893, she taught at the Presbyterian Mission School in Mayesville, then later at Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia.
In 1904, with construction of the railroad in Florida, she started a school, the Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls, to teach the hundreds of African Americans who had come to the area looking for work. In 1912, James M. Gamble (Procter and Gamble Company of Cincinnati, Ohio) contributed to the school and served as chairman of its board of trustees until his death. In 1923, the school merged with a boy’s school, Cookman Institute. The new school became as Bethune-Cookman Collegiate Institute, soon renamed Bethune-Cookman College.
In 1932 she founded and organized the National Council of Negro Women. In business, she played leadership roles in Florida life insurance companies and, in 1940, founded a recreation and housing development corporation. She wrote numerous magazine and newspaper articles and contributed chapters to several books. Among her many leadership roles, she was also vice-president of the NAACP
She worked with Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover for the National Child Welfare Commission. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the office of Special Advisor on Minority Affairs (later called the National Youth Administration). From 1936, she served for eight years, supervising the development of employment opportunities and recreational facilities for African American youth all over the United States. During World War II, from 1939 to 1945, she served as special assistant to the Secretary of War which included selecting the first female officer candidates. In 1945, she was appointed the special emissary, consulting on interracial affairs and understanding at the charter conference of the United Nations. In 1952, she was the personal representative of President Harry S. Truman at Liberia’s inauguration ceremonies.
She received many honorary degrees and awards, including the Haitian Medal of Honor and Merit (1949), the highest award of the Haitian government. In Liberia, she received the honor of Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa.
Mary McLeod Bethune died in Daytona Beach on May 18, 1955, of a heart attack. She is buried on the Bethune-Cookman College campus.
On March 5, 1985, the Mary McLeod Bethune commemorative stamp was issued. by the U.S. Postal Service as the eighth stamp in its Black Heritage USA series.
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Compiled from Wikipedia.