March 28th: Mary McLeod Bethune


Mary McLeod Bethune was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to two former slaves in Mayesville, South Carolina.  Her family was very poor so all of her siblings had to work in cotton fields to help support the family.  Bethune, however, was given an opportunity none of her siblings received: the chance to go to school.  A missionary had opened up a school specifically for African-American children and Bethune’s parents allowed her to go.  The school was a five mile walk away from her house, but that did not dissuade her; Bethune was set on getting an education and a little bit of walking was not going to get in her way.  Not only her education depended on her going to school, but her siblings as well since she taught her siblings what she had learned that day when she returned home from school.  Bethune did very well in school and earned herself a scholarship to go to an all girls seminary college in North Carolina.  After graduating, she became a teacher for almost 10 years.  Bethune believed that education was key to the advancement for people of color so she decided to start a school for black girls in Florida.  The school only had five girls at first, however, Bethune grew the school to over 250 girls within a few years.  The school became big enough that it expanded into a college and merged with an all boys school, becoming the Bethune-Cookman College (which Bethune remained the head of); it was one of the only schools in America where black students could obtain a college degree.  Bethune made great accomplishments in the political world as well.  She served as president for the National Association of Colored Women and held voting registration drives after women gained the right to vote.  She also served on multiple committees for a few different presidents.  Most notably, she served as a special advisor concerning minority affairs to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Later in FDR’s administracion, she was promoted to director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration where she helped young black people find jobs.  Following her death in 1955, Bethune was inducted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame and her last home was declared a National Historic Site.


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