1 Corinthians 10:31- Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. NKJV
During Black History month, we all tend to think of the icons of history, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, George W. Carver, Dr. King, and Rosa Parks. And I am no different, as I have definitely written about some of them myself. However, I want to focus this blog on a woman I have heard about through the years, but just recently gotten to know through reading about her life and work, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
Mary was born in Maysville, South Carolina. She was the last of her parents 17 children. The family lived in a cabin on land they had managed to purchase from their former slave owners. Mary’s family was said to have deep spiritual roots that sustained them and held the family together. Mary’s mother continued to work for her former owners to help with the purchase of the land. Accompanying her mother to the house, Mary was invited to play with the kids. Noticing the other kids reading, Mary picked up a book, but one of the girls gave her a picture book and told her that she couldn’t read.
“I thought, maybe the difference between white folks and colored is just this matter of reading and writing. I made up my mind I would know my letters.”Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary knew then that she would learn to read. When a school opened 5 miles from her home, the family decided that Mary would be the one to attend school. She walked to and from school every single day, never missing a day of school. At age 11, she began teaching her first students, her family.
“The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.”Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary attended Scotia Seminary, and then later Moody Bible Institute on scholarship. Mary’s heart was to become a missionary in Africa, where she could teach the people whose heritage she shared. That was not to be, because, upon graduation, she was told that no one would sponsor her to go to Africa.
“The drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.Mary McLeod Bethune
Disappointed, but not defeated, Mary became a school teacher in South Carolina, where she met and married her husband. They had only one child, a son. The couple moved to Florida, where Mary sold insurance and worked in a church. Not long after that, in 1904, her marriage ended and she decided it was time to follow her dream. Mary opened a boarding school for Black girls in Daytona, Florida.
I plunged into the job of creating something from nothing…Though I hadn’t a penny left, I considered cash money as the samllest part of my resources. I had faith in a living God, faith in myself, and a desire to serve.Mary McLeod Bethune
Opening the school was not just a dream, but a passion for Mary. She worked tirelessly to raise funds to keep the doors of her school open. Not only did she teach her girls, but she taught adults, who would in turn help around the place, give food items, animals for meat, or any assistance they could give to learn to read and write. She met her students where they were at, then taught them with all that she had.
Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary also began holding singing events at the fancy hotels in Daytona. She met wealthy people who contributed to the school, who became board members of the school, and who had influence in political settings. One of her dearest friends was Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin Roosevelt.
Mary was an educator at heart, and her drive to see young Black girls educated led to fundraising, which led to becoming an activist. As she fought for her school, she began to fight for improved healthcare for Blacks. In 1911, after seeing one of her students being turned away from the hospital, she opened her own hospital.
Mary was an activist for civil rights, fighting for women’s rights, the right for both women and Blacks to vote, and desegregation of public schools. Even when her life was threatened, she continued her efforts to fight for the rights of others.
If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimation, we accept the responsibility ourselves. We should, therefore, protest openly everything…that smacks of discrimination or slander.Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary’s boarding school merged with Cookman’s all male student body to become the Bethune-Cookman Institute, and is now the Bethune-Cookman College, of which she was the first president. Today, over 4,000 students attend the Bethune-Cookman College, now a fully accredited university.
“If we have the courage and tenacity of our forebears, who stood firmly like a rock against the lash of slavery, we shall find a way to do for our day what they did for theirs.”Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary started several organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women, which boasts a membership of over 4 million women.
“What does the Negro want? His answer is very simple. He wants only what all other Americans want. He wants opportunity to make real what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say, what the Four Freedoms establish. While he knows these ideals are open to no man completely, he wants only his equal chance to obtain them.”Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary was thrust into national attention as she headed the Bethune-Cookman College. She served as an advisor to presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. President Roosevelt appointed her as an advisor to the National Youth Administrator, and then later made her director of Negro Affairs at age 61, the first Black woman to lead a federal agency.
Mary lived a life of service and commitment to God first, then to the literacy of her people. She also fought for women rights, no matter the color.
She truly exemplified the verse for today:
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.1 Corinthians 10:31 NKJV
Everything she could do, she did! She overcame and overlooked racism when it benefitted her. When she needed to speak out, she didn’t hold her tongue. Whether she was teaching a class, leading songs, raising funds, talking on the radio, or talking with political figures of the day, she did it all as unto the Father. For His Glory! What a legacy! What a testimony! Wonderful Jesus!