Educator, Civil Rights Figure. She is considered by many to be the most influential African-American woman in United States history. It was she who helped to initiate the black pride movement in America. The fifteenth child of seventeen children of former slaves, she was born near Mayesville, South Carolina on July 10, 1875. Her determination and drive were evident from an early age. Through her parents' help and encouragement, McLeod acquired a good education. She attended the local Trinity Presbyterian Mission School; Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) in Concord, N.C.; and, in preparation to become an African missionary, the Bible Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (later Moody Bible Institute) in Chicago, Illinois. Howerever, after graduating from the institute in 1895, McLeod was extremely disappointed to learn that the Presbyterian Mission Board would not assign a African-American to Africa. She then turned to teaching, teaching at a number of schools soon coming to see the education of black students as the most important factor in improving the lives of African-Americans. During this time she married Albertus Bethune who died in 1918 and they had one child. Bethune wanted to provide even more opportunities for African-American girls, and in 1904 founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School (now Bethune-Cookman College) in Florida with little more than her faith in God, five young pupils, and $1.50. After a rocky start and her persistent direction as president (1904-1942) the school became a success, and expanded to a 32-acre campus with 14 buildings and 400 students. Bethune also played an important role in the fight for African-American suffrage. After the 19th Amendment passed in 1920, she provided money to pay the poll tax, taught a hundred potential African- American voters to read, and defied the KKK by leading them to the polls to vote. Over the next two decades Bethune's efforts to build her school brought her to national attention. She was in demand as a speaker, and she began to play a greater role in the public sector. She served on numerous organizations, including the National Association of teachers in Colored schools (as president), the Interracial Council of America, and the National Council of Negro Women, which she founded in 1935 in New York City and served as president for fourteen years. Bethune also advised a number of United States presidents and, as Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration (1936-1944), becoming the first African-American woman to head a federal agency. She was the sole woman among President Franklin D. Roosevelt's (SEE ALSO) African-American advisors, a group referred to as the "Black Cabinet." Bethune was also one of three African-American consultants to the U.S. delegation involved in developing the United Nations charter. Throughout her life Bethune received numerous awards, including the NAACP's prestigious Spingarn Medal (1935), the Frances Drexel Award for Distinguished Service (1937), and the Thomas Jefferson (SEE ALSO) Award for leadership (1942). Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s Bethune continued to advise Presidents Harry S. Truman (SEE ALSO) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (SEE ALSO) on matters affecting race relations. In her later years Bethune established the Mary Mcleod Bethune Foundation and promoted Frank Buchman's Moral Re-Armament, and international movement to unite people behind a set of absolute values. She also traveled widely and received recognition in other countries. In 1949 Haiti presented Bethune with its Medal of Honor and Merit, and in 1952 Liberia gave her its Star of Africa award. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune died at her home in Daytona Beach, Florida on May 18, 1955 having become the nation's preeminent symbol of black dignity and achievement. Bethune was laid to rest in a simple gravesite behind her home at Bethune-Cookman College so friends and colleagues who visit the campus could visit her as well. Thirty years later in 1985, Bethune was recognized as one of the most influential African-American woman in the country with a postage stamp issued in her honor and she is the first woman and first African-American to be honored with a statue in a public park in Washington, D.C.
Bio by: Curtis Jackson
"SHE HAS GIVEN HER BEST THAT OTHERS MAY LIVE A MORE ABUNDANT LIFE"