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MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE

EDUCATOR, BETHUNE-COOKMAN COLLEGE FOUNDER (1875-1955)

Mary McLeod Bethune, born in Mayesville, South Carolina.  Bethune believed that through education, Blacks could begin to earn a living in a country that still opposed racial equality.  Bethune worked tirelessly until her death and would not rest while there was "a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth." Mary Jane McLeod was born on July 10, fortunate in that she was able to gain a formal education, Bethune had originally hoped to become a missionary in Africa.  However, she realized that "Africans in America needed Christ and school just as much as Negroes in Africa.  My life work lay not in Africa but in my own country."  She first taught school in Georgia and later in South Carolina, Florida and Illinois.  As a young teacher in Chicago, she visited prisoners in jail, giving them inspiration through song.  She worked at the Pacific garden Mission, serving lunch to the homeless, and counseled the residents of Chicago's slums.  In Florida, she organized a Sunday school program and sang to prisoners. 

In 1904, Bethune opened the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls.  The school opened with five girls as students and later accepted boys as well.  Tuition was 50 cents a week, but Bethune never refused to educate a child whose parents could not afford the payment.  Bethune worked not only to maintain the school, but she also fought aggressively the segregation and inequality facing Blacks.   There was objection from many at that time to the education of Black children, but Bethune's zeal and dedication won over many skeptics of both races.  She encouraged people to " Invest in the human soul. who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough."  Bethune also opened a high school and a hospital for Blacks.  She had immense faith in God and believed that nothing was impossible.  Bethune remained president of the school for more than 40 years.  In 1923, she oversaw the school's merger with the Cookman Institute, thereby forming the Bethune-Cookman College

Revised: July 18, 2013.