Mary Jane McLeod Bethune: The First Lady of The Struggle
By ROBYN H. JIMENEZ The Dallas Examiner Dr. Mary Jane McLeod Bethune, born July 10, 1875 in South Carolina, was the daughter of former slaves. She later became known as “The First [...] The post Mary Jane McLeod Bethune: The First Lady of The Struggle appeared first on Dallas Examiner.
By ROBYN H. JIMENEZ
The Dallas Examiner
Dr. Mary Jane McLeod Bethune, born July 10, 1875 in South Carolina, was the daughter of former slaves. She later became known as “The First Lady of The Struggle” for her fight for civil rights and equality, helping change the face of the Democratic Party and opening a school that would later set the standard for modern Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Though she attended college with the intention of becoming a missionary, she became an educator because she couldn’t find a church to support her efforts. This didn’t take away from the fact that she was the first person in her family – which included two parents and 17 children – to receive a formal education.
After she married Albertus Bethune in 1898, the couple had a son a year later. After moving to Florida she and her husband divorced in 1904. Now far from her family and raising her son alone, she found herself needing to make a substantially larger income than what she was currently making.
In order to support herself and her son, she founded the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls in 1904. As president of the boarding school, she held the school to a high moral and academic standard.
In 1923, the school became a college and merged with the Cookman Institute for men. It became an affiliate of the United Methodist Church a year later and the name was changed to Bethune-Cookman College. Bethune continued as president of the college until she retired in 1942. In 1943, the college graduated its first students with degrees.
Currently, Bethune-Cookman College is a fully accredited college with 45 degreed programs.
On April 25, 1944, she co-founded the United Negro College Fund with Frederick D. Patterson and Williams J. Trent. For almost 78 years, UNCF has provided scholarships, mentorships and job opportunities to minority students across the country.
She now has 18 schools named in her honor, including Dallas ISD’s Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School.
Leading the way to the polls
While blazing a trail for African American education for girls, Bethune was also leading an effort to lead Black women to the voting polls.
After Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on June 4, 1919, giving White women the right to vote – and ratified it Aug. 18, 1920, so all women could vote in 36 states – Bethune began organizing voter registration drives.
At that time, most African Americans voted Republican. But after the party refused to support civil rights, Bethune became instrumental in the conversion of African Americans from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.
In 1924, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. In 1935, she became the founding president of the National Council of Negro Women. A year later, President Franklin Roosevelt named her director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration, making her the highest ranking Black woman in a government office and the first African American woman to head a federal agency. As an advisor to the president, she represented the Black voice in the White House.
Hoping to end discrimination and lynching, Bethune organized a conference on the Problems of the Negro and Negro Youth in 1937. In 1940, she became vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons.
President Harry S. Truman appointed her to attend the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945 as a U.S. delegate. She was the only woman of color to attend.
Nineteen years after her death, she became the only Black woman to be publically memorialized with a statue in the District of Columbia
Sources: National Women’s History Museum; Office of the Historian/Office of History, Art & Archives at House.gov; Cookman.edu
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