Guest column/Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator, leader

Mary McLeod was born in Mayesville, S.C., in 1875, the 15th of 17 children. She was an educator and civil rights leader.

McLeod spent much of her childhood picking cotton and taking in washing and ironing. Determined to get an education, she walked five miles to and from school each day for six years.

Later, she attended Scotia Seminary in North Carolina and Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. After graduating from Moody in 1895, she became a teacher and, two years later, married Albertus Bethune. She and her husband had one son, Albert.

In 1904, the Bethunes moved to Florida and she set up her own school, the Daytona Normal and Industrial School for Negro Girls. Tuition was 50 cents a week, and the student body consisted of five girls. Within two years, there were 250 students, and the school, which would later become Bethune-Cookman College, was firmly established.

In 1911, when a student almost died after being refused help at a whites-only hospital, she established a hospital for African Americans.

Her success brought her national attention, and in 1920 she became a vice president of the National Urban League. Between 1924 and 1928, she also served as president of the National Association of Colored Women. She founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935.

She was a personal friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and an adviser to five presidents — Calvin Collidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. She insisted on being addressed respectfully as Mrs. Bethune, and while at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, ordered that two African American physicians be allowed to monitor her treatment.

Throughout her life, Bethune emphasized education, self-respect and pride in being African American. She died in 1955.

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, keep us forever in our hearts, we pray.

(Wiggins, a resident of Steubenville, is president of the Ohio Valley Black Caucus Inc.)


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