July 10 - Happy Birthday, Mary McLeod Bethune

Posted on July 10, 2018

Today's strong black woman was born in South Carolina on this date in 1875. As you might guess from Mary McLeod Bethune's birth date, her parents and many of her siblings had been enslaved. She worked in the fields with her family from an early age, and she also helped her mother deliver laundry to white people.

At one of the delivery houses, little Mary picked up a book and opened it, and a white child took the book away from her saying that she didn't know how to read.

Suddenly, young Mary was determined to learn to read and write. She walked five miles to school and back each day, and each evening she taught her entire family (in addition to her parents, Mary had 17 brothers and sisters!!) all that she had learned that day.

Mary was able to attend college on a scholarship. She wanted to become a missionary in Africa, but she was told that black missionaries were not needed. So then she decided to work in education.

Bethune was able to teach in an elementary school in South Carolina and in a "normal" school in Georgia ("normal" schools were teacher-training colleges). Later she moved to Daytona, Florida, where she started a school for black girls. She knew that educating girls and women was a way of improving conditions for everyone, because they tended to raise entire families to be more educated.

Here's how Bethune managed to start her own school:

She built desks and benches out of discarded crates. 

She had her students help make ink for pens out of elderberry juice.

She had her students help make pencils from burned wood.

She asked local businesses for furniture donations.

She asked the community for donations, and she received money, equipment, and labor from local black churches.

She started with six students, and Bethune, the kids' families, and church members raised money by making sweet potato pies, ice cream, and fried fish, and selling this food to the crews at the town dump - which was right next door to her school!

Soon Bethune had more than 30 students!

Then Bethune did a smart thing: she invited white men who had power or money or influence to sit on her school board of trustees. And she courted the white and wealthy women who belonged to the Palmetto Club. 

Bethune ended up with some bigwigs on her school board of trustees and some bigger-wigs donating to her school. (Like a donation of $62,000 from John D. Rockefeller doesn't sound too bad even now - it must have been ENORMOUS then!) 

Bethune's school evolved into a junior college and then a four-year college. She is one of the few women in her time to serve as a university president!

Bethune also worked on social needs through women's clubs, becoming president of such organizations as the National Association of Colored Women and the Southeastern Association of Colored Women's Clubs. She founded the National Council of Negro Women, and she advised U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a member of his "Black Cabinet." First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said that Bethune was her closest friend in her age group.

I could go on and on, because Mary McLeod Bethune did a lot and mattered a lot!

Did you know that Russian poet Alexander Pushkin
and Russian author Alexandre Dumas (of The Three Musketeers
and The Count of Monte Cristo fame) were both descended from
African people?

Also on this date:

Inventor Nikola Tesla's birthday

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