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Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune (b. July 10,1875 – d. May 18, 1955) was an educator and activist who was born on July 10, 1875 in South Carolina to enslaved parents. Her parents worked hard to purchase the land on which they were enslaved. To make money, her mother would do laundry for others and take young Mary with her on deliveries. 

One delivery proved to be more impactful than the others and helped to spark her passion for reading and teaching. After being told she could not read by one of her mother’s client’s children, Bethune decided that she was on a mission to dispel that belief. She walked five miles a day to attend a one-room school for the African American children in the community. The school was run by the Presbyterian Board of Missions of Freedman. She was the only child in her family to attend school, but every day after school she taught her siblings what she learned. 

After marrying Albertus Bethune and moving to Georgia, she was enticed to start a school. The couple relocated to Florida in 1899 where she opened a mission school and started an outreach program for prisoners there.  

Following the separation and death of her husband, McLeod Bethune moved back to South Carolina where she briefly worked as a teacher. She co-founded the United Negro College Fund in 1944, and raised enough money to start her own school, which would evolve into Bethune-Cookman University. 

McLeod Bethune also made friends in high places throughout her career. One of those friends was Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped her get appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She became known as “The First Lady of The Struggle” because of her commitment to create better lives for African Americans. 
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What Does American Democracy Mean to Me? (1939)
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From Out of the Past! - Voice of Mary McLeod Bethune
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Dovey Roundtree: Meeting Mary McLeod Bethune
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Mr. Albert Bethune - Living History