Next to my mom, a teacher herself, no other educator inspired me more than Mary McLeod Bethune. I never knew who Mary McLeod Bethune was until I got to college. I wish I had learned about Mary McLeod Bethune when I was as a child. She was not part of any of my history lessons growing up. But, she should be for our kids.
It was not until I was a senior in college that I got to know this incredible educator, political advisor and voice for the black community. It was during my senior year in college that I had to research and write my thesis as a history major. One day, while in a history course I came across the “black cabinet” while studying The New Deal. This informal group of advisors to FDR had been led by Mary McLeod Bethune and had great access to the president during the days of the great depression. Bethune and the “black cabinet” were a fascinating study and became the focus of my senior thesis.
At her core, Mary McLeod Bethune was an educator who wanted all children to have access to a great education. At her height, she was a friend and an advisor to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, sharing the voice of the black community during the days of the New Deal and the Great Depression. We are blessed to have her home in DC, in Logan Circle, on the list of National Historic Places. It is in this home where she would meet with the “black cabinet” and from there where she would walk to the White House to meet with FDR.
As we celebrate Black History Month, let us remember this great educator, humanitarian and Washington insider. Mary McLeod Bethune used her influence to provide a voice for a community that had none at the time and was an example for the great civil rights activists after her. A statue dedicated to Bethune in Lincoln Park in Washington, DC (displayed above) is engraved with the following quote:
“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.”
This is what Mary McLeod Bethune taught me. Priceless wisdom. Timeless advice.