Mary McLeod Bethune: the ‘First Lady of the Struggle’.

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With Black History Month upon us it is crucial that we highlight the inspirational black figures of the world. Arguably, there is no better way to start than with trailblazer, and tireless activist, Mary McLeod Bethune.

Mary McLeod Bethune was many things. An educator, an activist, a leader but most importantly; she was a strong, driven woman of colour. Born in 1875, she dedicated her life to fighting for the rights and freedoms of black Americans. She died in 1955 at 79 years old but the life she lived and legacy she left behind have earned her a place in history as the ‘First lady of the Struggle’.

“Theirs will be a better world. This I believe with all my heart.”

Mary McLeod Bethune

Bethune was a pioneer in black higher education, she was a founder and president of what is now known as Bethune-Cookman College in Florida. Her tenacity and passion for education garnered the support of many and this college paved the way for Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the US.

Alongside her efforts in education, Bethune was an activist for civil and women’s rights. In 1924 she was elected as president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and in 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).

Both organisations addressed discrimination and sought to improve the lives of black women in America. Bethune later acted as a special advisor for various US Presidents, including Roosevelt, who appointed her as his advisor of minority affairs.

The achievements noted above are only a select few from throughout Bethune’s extraordinary life. At a time where black women were denied many basic rights, Bethune was creating opportunities for others and was the true embodiment of her own story and vision.

“Our children must never lose their zeal for building a better world. They must not be discouraged from aspiring toward greatness.”

Mary McLeod Bethune

While there are countless reasons Bethune’s legacy is such a poignant one, it was her self-assurance and unwavering determination that resonated so strongly with me. Despite the odds being stacked against her, Bethune became one of the most influential women of her time and she helped facilitate the empowerment of future generations.

Her belief that education was the key to creating an equal society was at the core of her actions. To this day, a good education is one of the most powerful tools any person can be given, and Bethune ensured that this was an opportunity extended to black Americans. However, it was her complete belief and determination to see her cause succeed that meant Bethune was able to triumph over the adversity she faced and that is what makes her story so inspiring.

“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 respect for the uses 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.”

Mary McLeod Bethune

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