Mary McLeod Bethune was born in 1875 in Mayesville, S.C. She dreamed of learning to read! One memory that haunted her, yet drove her to learn to read was her plantation owner's little blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl's stinging words, "Put that book down; you can't read!"
Yes, she would learn to read although not one grown-up black person in her small town could read. By putting her faith in God first, then herself, Mary was chosen by her family to go to school when the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church opened a new school for black children in Mayesville. Mary Jane became a light in that small town. Neighbors brought her problems to help them solve such as the weight and price of their cotton.
After learning all she could in Mayesville, she was chosen to go to Scotia Seminary in Concord, N.C. After spending seven years there, she attended the Moody Bible Institute on a scholarship. When Mary returned to Mayesville, she held classes for family and friends working endlessly to teach them how to read and solve math problems.
Mary wanted to become a missionary to Africa, but there was no opening for a Negro in Africa. Instead, she took a teaching position at Haines Normal Institute in Atlanta.
Next, she taught in Sumter, S.C. Not long after that she moved to Florida where she ran a small parochial school. In 1904 she started her very own school, "The Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls," with $1.50 and faith in God in Daytona, Florida.
Within the next five years, she founded five mission schools. Not only that, but Mrs. Bethune started a small hospital for blacks and became active in many national groups including a group urging blacks to vote. In the midst of threats from the Ku Klux Klan, Mrs. Bethune persevered and moved into the national arena where her dynamic personality earned her the Spingarn Medal Award. She was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as director of affairs for the National Youth Administration. She formed the National Council of Negro Women and helped to draw up the charter for the United Nations. She was also one of the founders of the Southern Conferences on Human Welfare. President Roosevelt had high regard for her. Upon his death, his wife gave Mrs. Bethune his walking cane.
Mrs. Bethune's portrait hangs in our S.C. State House and there is a monument of her in Washington, D.C. In March of 1985 a commerative stamp was issued by the U.S. Postal Service. Just think, a little girl with the desire to learn to read, accomplished so much!
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