AFT - American Federation of Teachers

Shortcut Navigation:
 
Email ShareThis

Mary McLeod Bethune

Just ten years after the end of the American Civil War, Mary McLeod Bethune was born into the Jim Crow South, the fifteenth child to former slaves who still worked the same cotton fields their ancestors had worked for hundreds of years. At that time and place there was little opportunity for a Black woman, nevertheless, Mary who became known as “The First Lady of Struggle,” defied the odds and through the power of literacy she became a world renowned racial justice activist, civil rights leader, pioneering American educator, and personal advisor and friend to President Franklin Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Mary McLeod Bethune died May 18, 1955. Newspaper editorials across the nation mourned her passing and celebrated her amazing life. The Daytona Evening News, her hometown paper, declared, "To some she seemed unreal, something that could not be... What right had she to greatness?... The lesson of Mrs. Bethune's life is that genius knows no racial barriers.”

In 1973, Mary was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and one year later, on July 10, 1974 – ninety-nine years to the day after Mary’s birth – a statue was erected to her in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Park, making her the first African American and the first woman honored with a statue in a public park in the nation’s capital. At the base of the statue is engraved the following passage from her “Last Will and Testament:”

I leave you love. I leave you 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 you faith. I leave you racial dignity. I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow men. I leave you, finally, a responsibility to our young people.