How Can We Forget Mary McLeod Bethune?

“I know you cannot all remember my name, but you will remember this face, remember this crown of white hair, remember the yearnings of a heart that is pleading for the unity of the world, that all of us may brothers be.”

Source: Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World Edited by Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith; Indiana University Press, 1999 p. 57; and; “Address to a World Assembly for Moral Re-Aarmanent” July 27, 1964 Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation, Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Fla.

The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: Given her contributions, from serving as a key advisor to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the generations of black graduates from Bethune-Cookman University, we shouldn’t forget Mary McLeod Bethune.

Why Mary McLeod Bethune Remains an Iconic Figure

Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune

“One of the difficulties historians face in rendering assessments of a complex person such as [Mary McLeod] Bethune is that she defies sociological categories and stereotypes. She lived almost eighty years, a lifetime that reached from post-Reconstruction era to the dawn of the civil rights era. She remained socially and politically engaged throughout her adult life, participating in major social and political events that changed her and America.

For that reason, an idealogical framework that overlooks her skills in the politics of pragmatism will not be fruitful. Bethune adopted to the times by, as Aubrey Williams noted, “playing winners.” Although she held fast to her core beliefs — including religious faith, racial pride, and equal opportunity for black women and men in America — she adjusted her approach, if not her values, to the existing climate as needed.”

Source: Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World Essays and Selected Documents Edited by Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith Indiana University Press, 2001, p. 15

Photo Credit: Carl Van Vechten

Mary McLeod Bethune’s Vision for Black Women

“Very early in my life, I saw the vision of what our women might contribute to the growth and development of the race — if they wee given a certain type of intellectual training. I longed to see women, Negro women, hold in their hands diplomas which bespoke achievement; I longed to see them trained to be inspirational wives and mothers; I longed to see their accomplishments recognized side by side with any women, anywhere. With this vision before me, my life has been spent.”

Source: Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World Edited by Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith; Indiana University Press, 1999 p. 84; and “A Philosophy of Education for Negro Girls” Mary McLeod Bethune Papers , Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans, La., Box 2, Folder 13

A Floridian’s Memory of Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune

“As a boy growing up in Daytona, I was of course familiar with how Mary McLeod Bethune started her school and I knew the mission she felt she was fulfilling. Very often she would come to our church, usually on the fifth Sunday night, and she would talk of her dreams for Negro youth. Often she would sing a solo Always the congregation gave her collection for her work …”  — Howard Thurman

 

Source: With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman  Harcourt Brace & Co. 1979 p. 23

Photo Credit: Carl Van Vechten

 

Mary McLeod Bethune’s Legacy to Black Women

 

Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune made this day a red-letter date in American history for black women. On December 5, 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) as an “organization of organizations” to represent the concerns of Black women, here in America and abroad.

The NCNW gave black women the chance to realize their aspirations for social justice and human rights as the organization took on job discrimination, barriers to voting rights and fought for anti-lynching laws. Today, the NCNW consists of roughly 36 national African American women’s organizations and more than 230 community and campus based sections.  It’s mission remains to advocate, empower and lead nearly three million women , their  families and communities.

Bethune, of course, was a noted educator, founder of Bethune Cookman College, and perhaps the most influential black woman of her time. The NCNW is just one of the many accomplishments that are part of Bethune’s rich legacy.

Photo Credit: Carl Van Vechten