In honor of Black History Month, Mb Staffing would like to pay homage each week to an African American figure from history. Those we have selected are all figures who may not get as much attention as they deserve, whose story moves us, whose life’s work inspires us, and whose legacy sets an example that we all hope to see emulated in our world today.
Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary McLeod Bethune was born on July 10, 1875 in South Carolina. Known as “The First Lady of the Struggle,” she rose from humble beginnings as a field worker to become one of the most prominent leaders of both African Americans and American women.
The enormous scope of Bethune’s achievements is incredible to comprehend. After working as a teacher for many years, she started a school for African American girls in Daytona, Florida, which would become the co-ed Bethune-Cookman School. Also in Daytona, she founded McLeod Hospital, the first hospital built in Daytona that did not discriminate against people of color. She served as Florida chapter president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), resisting the Ku Klux Klan and oppressive Jim Crow laws to register Black voters in Florida. She was finally elected national president of the NACW in 1924, and as president acquired their first national headquarters on 1318 Vermont Avenue in Washington, D.C., the first Black-controlled organization headquartered in the nation’s capital. And these are just the tip of her achievements.
Bethune’s reputation across the country continued to grow throughout the 1920s, culminating in her appointment to the White House Conference on Child Health in 1930 by President Herbert Hoover. She founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in New York City in 1935, whose mission was to improve the lives of Black women. She became a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, and used her access to the White House to form the Federal Council of Negro Affairs, also called the Black Cabinet. The first African American collective in higher positions in government, it was an advisory board to the Roosevelt Administration regarding issues concerning African Americans.
Mary McLeod Bethune died on May 18, 1955. She is remembered today for her extraordinary personal accomplishments and for her incredible work throughout her life to advance civil rights and expand opportunity for women and African Americans. She advised five different presidents and served in many government positions, and her impact on all of us is humbling.
On July 10, 1974, on what would have been her 99th birthday, The Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial was erected in Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. Inscribed on the memorial is the following from her “Last Will and Testament”:
I leave you to love. I leave you to hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you a thirst for education. I leave you a respect for the use of power. I leave your faith. I leave you racial dignity. I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men. I leave you a responsibility to our young people.