"The drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.' 
Mary McLeod 
                                                 Lady Mary Macleod Bethune

Her genuine desire to serve others always distinguished Mary McLeod Bethune. A dedicated and extraordinary African-American educator, civil rights leader,women`s right activist and government official, Bethune’s constant search for more money for African American educational needs prompted her to form powerful relationships with John D. Rockefeller as well as Fran
klin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt. But Bethune, who founded her own school, now part of Bethune-Cookman College, did not separate education and politics.

                   This photograph of Mary McLeod Bethune is from the Florida State Archives Photographic 

Instead, she merged the two, leading voter registration drives as well as heading the National Association of Colored Women. She served as a member of FDR’s “Black Cabinet,” taking a special interest in issues pertaining to minority youth. In 1935, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women. Helping black women secure leadership roles in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II was one of the organization’s earliest successes. At the United Nations founding in 1945, Bethune was the only black woman present and, the following year, she served as the US emissary at the induction of Liberia’s president.

                                 Mary Macleod Bethune in front of White House

"I never stop to plan. I take things step by step." '
Mary McLeod Bethune  

As a small child, Mary Jane McLeod would routinely accompany her mother to deliver the "white people's" wash. Allowed into the white children's nursery, Mary would find amusement playing with their toys. In one instance, she curiously opened a book. Immediately, one of the white children snatched it from her exclaiming, "Put that down. You can't read!" Mary thought, "Maybe the difference between white folks and colored is just this matter of reading and writing." At that moment, the seeds for a life of learning and teaching were planted.
                                                                    Young Mary Jane  Macleod
Unlike her parents and 16 siblings, Mary Jane McLeod was born free in July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina. Mary McLeod Bethune was the 15th child of his parents. Both her mother and father, Patsy and Samuel McLeod, had been slaves on the McIntosh and McLeod plantations in Maysville, South Carolina, a "country town in the midst of rice and cotton fields." After gaining her freedom, Patsy McLeod found herself still financially tied to her former master. She continued to work on the plantation until she saved enough to buy the home in which Mary was eventually born.

All members of the family worked in the fields -- even Mary who at the age of nine could pick 250 pounds of cotton per day. But one day a black missionary woman who was starting a school asked that the McLeod children attend. The family could only afford to send one; Mary was selected. She walked the five miles to and from the Maysville school and did her homework by candlelight. She took all the classes she possibly could and would teach her parents and siblings what she had learned during any free time.

                                   Samuel Macleod, Mary Macleod Bethune`s father
"Papa, I want an education." The black man looked at his young daughter. Her large eyes were serious. The child had a keen mind. She was a bundle of energy. Yes, his Mary was certainly a candidate for an education." Mary Bethune as a child to her father.
Tragedy struck when the family's only mule died. Suddenly, all hands were needed at home and money grew even more scarce. Mary, devastated by the thought of leaving her studies, returned home to work. Remarkably at this time, a dressmaker in Denver named Mary Chrisman offered the Maysville school scholarship money for one student to continue her studies. Again, Mary was chosen, but this time went off to the Scotia Seminary for Girls in Concord, North Carolina.

Mary's first ambition, after graduating from Scotia, was to be a missionary in Africa, but she turned instead toward studying at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago when offered a scholarship there. After graduating in 1895, she taught in several mission schools in the South where she met and married a fellow teacher, Albertus Bethune, in 1898. After separating in 1907, Mary was left alone to care for their young son.
    Group photo of students at the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, taken about 1919.
One year later, Mary Bethune returned to her life's passion. Hearing that the labor needed to build a railroad on Florida's east coast was attracting a significant amount of the South's black population, Bethune strategically purchased a four-room cottage near Daytona Beach. Soon after, in 1904, the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Girls opened with only five students. Through her tenacity and resourcefulness in fundraising, the school expanded to include 250 students just two years later. The school gained in popularity and eventually merged with the Cookman Institute for Men in Jacksonville to form Bethune-Cookman College in 1923. As its original founder, Bethune served as president of this institution, one of the nation's few colleges open to black students, until 1942.
    Daytona Beach, Florida. Bethune-Cookman College. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune saying goodbye to a group of students after resigning as president of the college.
Gordon Parks, January 1943.
With the success of her school, Bethune went on to be a spokesman for her race and her gender. In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women in New York. Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her as Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, a position she occupied from 1936 to 1943. She was particularly well-suited to this role because it allowed her to reach the nation's black youth with her zeal for education. Roosevelt also considered her one of his foremost advisers in the unofficial "black cabinet" in his administration. He frequently consulted with her on minority affairs and interracial relations.
        Mary Macleod Bethune with President Harry S Truman an unidentified woman and ambassador Ralph    Blanche   
Though her awards and credits were many, she garnered significant criticism from both the white and black communities. Her very vocal nature and active lifestyle often placed her in the public spotlight. Defying segregation and the norms for both blacks and women in America, she was targeted by extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the supporters of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In her 1952 "My Day" column, Eleanor Roosevelt lamented an instance in which a school in Englewood, New Jersey, cancelled an invitation for Bethune to speak because of her alleged connections to the Communist party. Refuting such associations, Eleanor wrote, "If she did belong to any [Communist organizations], I am sure with her keen mind she soon discovered something wrong and was not a member for long. If she went to them to speak, she undoubtedly did them good."

Many within the black community found fault with Bethune's educational philosophy. In the tradition of Booker T. Washington, the prominent black educator, Bethune felt it more important to educate blacks in vocational occupations so that they might support themselves, rather than provide them with an education geared toward higher learning. "My people needed literacy," she said, "but they needed even more to learn the simples of farming, of making decent homes, of health and plain cleanliness." Other black leaders found this problematic. Ida B. Wells, following W.E.B. DuBois' philosophy, felt that access to higher intellectual professions should not be denied blacks in educational facilities. Arguing against Bethune, Wells wrote that "to sneer at and discourage higher education would mean to rob the race of leaders which it so badly needed... all the industrial education in the world could not take the place of manhood." This was a divisive issue when Bethune triumphed over Wells for the presidency of the NACW in 1924, and it continued to be a contributing factor in the dissension within black organizations for years to come.
            Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida B. Wells, Nannie Burroughs and other women at Baptist Women's gathering, Chicago. (1930?-1975
Despite such controversy, many appreciated Bethune's leadership. Applauding "her wisdom and her goodness," Eleanor dedicated a "My Day" column in memoriam to the black educator at the time of the latter's death in 1955. In 1933, Bethune wrote of the black woman, "She has been quick to seize every opportunity which presented itself to come more and more into the open and strive directly for the uplift of the race and nation. In that direction, her achievements have been amazing..." In her efforts, Bethune aspired to be this woman. Her inner strength and passion for education made her a truly remarkable figure of her time.

~~~~~~  MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE  ~~~~~~                 Last Will & Testament

"Sometimes I ask myself if I have any other legacy to leave. Truly my worldly possessions are few. Yet my experiences have been rich. From them, I have distilled principles and policies in which I believe firmly for they represent the meaning of my life's work ... Here, then is my legacy:
I leave you love. Love builds. It is positive and hopeful. Loving your neighbor means being interracial, inter-religious and international."

            Mary Bethune in group photo with members of the National Council of Women Negros

    Mary McLeod Bethune], "Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and others at the opening of Midway Hall, one of two residence halls built by the Public Buildings Administration of FWA for Negro government girls..."

Sometimes as I sit communing in my study I feel that death is not far off. I am aware that it will overtake me before the greatest of my dreams – full equality for the Negro in our time – is realized. Yet, I face that reality without fear or regrets. I am resigned to death as all humans must be at the proper time. Death neither alarms nor frightens one who has had a long career of fruitful toil. The knowledge that my work has been helpful to many fills me with joy and great satisfaction.

Dr Mary McLeod Bethune Named Mother of the Century - Jet Magazine, October 21, 1954

   Since my retirement from an active role in educational work and from the affairs of the National Council of Negro Women, I have been living quietly and working at my desk at my home here in Florida.

   The years have directed a change of pace for me. I am now 78 years old and my activities are no longer so strenuous as they once were. I feel that I must conserve my strength to finish the work at hand.   Already I have begun working on my autobiography which will record my life-journey in detail, together with the innumerable side trips which have carried me abroad, into every corner of our country, into homes both lowly and luxurious, and even into the White House to confer with Presidents. I have also deeded my home and its contents to the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation, organized in March, 1953, for research, interracial activity and the sponsorship of wider educational opportunities.
   Sometimes I ask myself if I have any other legacy to leave. Truly, my worldly possessions are few. Yet, my experiences have been rich. From them, I have distilled principles and policies in which I believe firmly, for they represent the meaning of my life's work. They are the products of much sweat and sorrow. Perhaps in them there is something of value. So, as my life draws to a close, I will pass them on to Negroes everywhere in the hope that an old woman's philosophy may give them inspiration. Here, then is my legacy.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
I had no furniture. I begged dry goods boxes and made benches and stools; begged a basin and other things I needed and in 1904 five little girls here started school.
—Mary McLeod Bethune

   I LEAVE YOU LOVE. Love builds. It is positive and helpful. It is more beneficial than hate. Injuries quickly forgotten quickly pass away. Personally and racially, our enemies must be forgiven. Our aim must be to create a world of fellowship and justice where no man's skin, color or religion, is held against him. "Love thy neighbor" is a precept which could transform the world if it were universally practiced. It connotes brotherhood and, to me, brotherhood of man is the noblest concept in all human relations. Loving your neighbor means being interracial, inter religious and international.

   I LEAVE YOU HOPE. The Negro's growth will be great in the years to come. Yesterday, our ancestors endured the degradation of slavery, yet they retained their dignity. Today, we direct our economic and political strength toward winning a more abundant and secure life. Tomorrow, a new Negro, unhindered by race taboos and shackles, will benefit from more than 330 years of ceaseless striving and struggle. Theirs will be a better world. This I believe with all my heart.

   I LEAVE YOU THE CHALLENGE OF DEVELOPING CONFIDENCE IN ONE ANOTHER.As long as Negroes are hemmed into racial blocs by prejudice and pressure, it will be necessary for them to band together for economic betterment. Negro banks, insurance companies and other businesses are examples of successful, racial economic enterprises. These institutions were made possible by vision and mutual aid. Confidence was vital in getting them started and keeping them going. Negroes have got to demonstrate still more confidence in each other in business. This kind of confidence will aid the economic rise of the race by bringing together the pennies and dollars of our people and ploughing them into useful channels. Economic separatism cannot be tolerated in this enlightened age, and it is not practicable. We must spread out as far and as fast as we can, but we must also help each other as we go.
                    Mary McLeod Bethune standing on stairway  ca. 1930 

   I LEAVE YOU A THIRST FOR EDUCATION. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour. More and more, Negroes are taking full advantage of hard-won opportunities for learning, and the educational level of the Negro population is at its highest point in history. We are making greater use of the privileges inherent in living in a democracy. If we continue in this trend, we will be able to rear increasing numbers of strong, purposeful men and women, equipped with vision, mental clarity, health and education.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Established 1904 by Mary McLeod Bethune with 5 girls and $1.50 cash in a rented cabin. By 1918 there was a four story building called Faith Hall, a 2 story building used for kitchen and a new $40,000 auditorium on 20 acres. Classes offered in sewing, dressmaking, domestic science, gardening, poultry raising, raffia work, rug weaving, chair caning, broom making teacher and nurses training. An additional building some distance from the campus was fitted up for the education of boys and men.
 I LEAVE YOU RESPECT FOR THE USES OF POWER. We live in a world which respects power above all things. Power, intelligently directed, can lead to more freedom. Unwisely directed, it can be a dreadful, destructive force. During my lifetime I have seen the power of the Negro grow enormously. It has always been my first concern that this power should be placed on the side of human justice.
   Now that the barriers are crumbling everywhere, the Negro in America must be ever vigilant lest his forces be marshaled behind wrong causes and undemocratic movements. He must not lend his support to any group that seeks to subvert democracy. That is why we must select leaders who are wise, courageous, and of great moral stature and ability. We have great leaders among us today: Ralph Bunche, Channing Tobias, Mordecai Johnson, Walter White, and Mary Church Terrell. [The latter now deceased]. We have had other great men and women in the past: Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. We must produce more qualified people like them, who will work not for themselves, but for others.

   I LEAVE YOU FAITH. Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible. Faith in God is the greatest power, but great, too, is faith in oneself. In 50 years the faith of the American Negro in himself has grown immensely and is still increasing. The measure of our progress as a race is in precise relation to the depth of the faith in our people held by our leaders. Frederick Douglass, genius though he was, was spurred by a deep conviction that his people would heed his counsel and follow him to freedom. Our greatest Negro figures have been imbued with faith. Our forefathers struggled for liberty in conditions far more onerous than those we now face, but they never lost the faith. Their perseverance paid rich dividends. We must never forget their sufferings and their sacrifices, for they were the foundations of the progress of our people.

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute during meal preparation. Mary McLeod Bethune is third from left.
   I LEAVE YOU RACIAL DIGNITY. I want Negroes to maintain their human dignity at all costs. We, as Negroes, must recognize that we are the custodians as well as the heirs of a great civilization. We have given something to the world as a race and for this we are proud and fully conscious of our place in the total picture of mankind's development. We must learn also to share and mix with all men. We must make and effort to be less race conscious and more conscious of individual and human values. I have never been sensitive about my complexion. My color has never destroyed my self-respect nor has it ever caused me to conduct myself in such a manner as to merit the disrespect of any person. I have not let my color handicap me. Despite many crushing burdens and handicaps, I have risen from the cotton fields of South Carolina to found a college, administer it during its years of growth, become a public servant in the government of our country and a leader of women. I would not exchange my color for all the wealth in the world, for had I been born white I might not have been able to do all that I have done or yet hope to do.

 I LEAVE YOU A DESIRE TO LIVE HARMONIOUSLY WITH YOUR FELLOW MEN. The problem of color is worldwide. It is found in Africa and Asia, Europe and South America. I appeal to American Negroes -- North, South, East and West -- to recognize their common problems and unite to solve them.
   I pray that we will learn to live harmoniously with the white race. So often, our difficulties have made us hypersensitive and truculent. I want to see my people conduct themselves naturally in all relationships -- fully conscious of their manly responsibilities and deeply aware of their heritage. I want them to learn to understand whites and influence them for good, for it is advisable and sensible for us to do so. We are a minority of 15 million living side by side with a white majority. We must learn to deal with these people positively and on an individual basis.
          Mary McLeod Bethune at the Phyllis Wheatly Young Women’s
Christian Association Rhode Island Avenue in Washington, DC, 1943.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,
FSA/OWI Collection, LC-USW3-034740-C

 I LEAVE YOU FINALLY A RESPONSIBILITY TO OUR YOUNG PEOPLE. The world around us really belongs to youth for youth will take over its future management. Our children must never lose their zeal for building a better world. They must not be discouraged from aspiring toward greatness, for they are to be the leaders of tomorrow. Nor must they forget that the masses of our people are still underprivileged, ill-housed, impoverished and victimized by discrimination. We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.
   Faith, courage, brotherhood, dignity, ambition, responsibility -- these are needed today as never before. We must cultivate them and use them as tools for our task of completing the establishment of equality for the Negro. We must sharpen these tools in the struggle that faces us and find new ways of using them. The Freedom Gates are half-ajar. We must pry them fully open.
                                  Granny Mary Bethune

   If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving. As I face tomorrow, I am content, for I think I have spent my life well. I pray now that my philosophy may be helpful to those who share my vision of a world of Peace, Progress, Brotherhood, and Love.

                                                                                     -- published in Ebony magazine, August 1955

State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Samuel and Patsy McIntosh McLeod of Mayesville, South Carolina. Parents of Mary McLeod Bethune and 16 other children. They were former slaves. Rachel and Maria, Mary McLeod Bethune's sisters, are in front of the cabin.

Mary McLeod Bethune: Her 1949 Historic Awards

Portrait of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, 1920s
Very few people realize that in 1949 Mary McLeod Bethune received two historic awards.
Haitian Medal of Honor & Merit
Haitian Medal of Honor & Merit
The first one was Haiti’s highest award, the Medal of Honor and Merit from President Dumarsais Estime.  She was the first woman, regardless of race, to ever receive this prestigious award.  Based on statements from the President of the Republic of Haiti in 1949, Mary McLeod Bethune received this award for being the “foremost woman of her race in the United States”.  Mary Bethune received this medal during the Haiti Exposition of 1949.
The Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa
The Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa
Also in 1949, Mary McLeod Bethune traveled as a representative of the U.S. Government to Liberia at the request of President Truman. While there during the inaugaration of Liberian President William Tubman,Mary Bethune was awarded Liberia’s highest medal, The Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa. This was a “dream come true” for Mary McLeod Bethune, who received this prestigious medal during her first trip to Africa after dreaming of serving as a missionary in Africa as a child.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget the many accomplishment of this African American icon and legend so below we have included a list of her accomplishments for all to review.
Mary McLeod Bethune Accomplishments
1. Mary McLeod Bethune founded the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona, FL.  This school was eventually renamed Bethune-Cookman University.
2. She served as president of the Florida chapter of the National Association of Colored Women from 1917 to 1925.  Under her leadership the organization purchased a headquarters in Washington, D.C. and became the first African American organization represented there.
             Mary McLeod Bethune (Journey to Freedom: The African 
         American Library) [Library Binding] Amy Robin Jones

3. She served as president of the Southeastern Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1920 to 1925.
4. Mary McLeod Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935.  The mission of this organization was to improve the lives of African American women and their communities.
5. Mary McLeod Behtune served as the Director of the Division of Negro Affairs for the National Youth Administration.  When appointed to this position she became the first African American head of a federal agency.  While serving in this capacity, the Director of the National Youth Administration claimed that “No one can do, what Mrs. Bethune can do.”
6. She was an integral part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program and made sure that Historically Black Colleges and Universities participated.  As a result, this program graduated some of the first African American pilots.
    Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McLeod Bethune in New York
(11/12/1960) - Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, Hyde Park, New York. - Reproduction number: 65626
7. Mary McLeod Bethune was one of the founders and principal organizers of the Black Cabinet.   The Black Cabinet consisted of a coalition of leaders from African American organizations that advised the Roosevelt Administration on issues facing Black America.
     Mrs. Mary Bethune speaking to the Council of Negro Women. Meeting in Washington to discuss the needs of the Negro Women. Shot made in Auditorium of Old Interior Building.
April 4, 1938
from FDR Library

8. She was such a good friend of Elanor D. Roosevelt that the first lady changed the segregation rules of the Southern Conference of Human Welfare in Birmingham, AL so that she could sit beside Mary McLeod Bethune.
9. She was awarded the Springarn Award from the NAACP in 1935.
10. She was an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta University.

                                       Dr Bethune and the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt
11. Mary McLeod Behtune was the only African American woman present at the founding of the United Nations in 1948.
12. In 1973, Mary McLeod Bethune was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame
13. In 1974, a sculpture was erected to her honor in Lincoln Park in Washington D.C.
14. In 2004, the National Association of Colored Women headquarters in Washington, D.C. became the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site.
15. There is a historical marker in Maysville, South Carolina to commemorate the birth of Mary McLeod Bethune.

Mary McLeod Bethune Timeline

1863Emancipation Proclamation announced the end of slavery
1875Mary McLeod Bethune is born.
1884Entered Miss Wilson's school
1887Entered Scotia Seminary
1894Graduates from Scotia Seminary
1895Began teaching at Miss Wilson's school
1898Married Albertus Bethune
1899First child born
1904Opened Daytona Educational and Industrial School for Negro Girls
1906Her father died
1909National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded
1912First student completed eighth grade at her school
1919Race riots break out in Chicago
1925Bethune College and Cookman College merge to form Bethune-Cookman College
1935Chosen as Roosevelt's special advisor on minority affairs
1935Earned the NAACP's Springarn Medal
1936Was appointed as an administrator of the Office of Minority Affairs
1945Franklin Delano Roosevelt dies
1955Mary dies at the age of 80 in Daytona Beach, Florida
        Mary McLeod Bethune (right) inspired young women such as her protégé Dorothy Irene Height (left) to pursue civil rights activism.

Mary Macleod Bethune ought to be celebrated constantly because he gave all she had for her people. She was neither selfish nor allowed fame to corrupt her. Her kind is not easy to come by in our today`s world.
Dr. Mary Macleod Bethune and Dr. Dorothy Boulding Celeste Ferebee and other guests

Mary McLeod Bethune To Be Buried in Florida - Jet Magazine, June 2, 1955

4000 Attend Burial Rites for Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune - Jet Magazine June 9, 1955

Read the full bio here: