May 18, 1955: Educator Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune dies
Educator and civil rights leader Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, perhaps Daytona Beach's most important and influential resident, died on May 18, 1955 at age 79.
One of 17 children born to former slaves in a cabin in Mayesville, S.C., Mary Jane McLeod was the only child in her family to get an education. She attended college in Chicago and moved back to the South to become an educator.
She married Albertus Bethune in 1898, and in 1904, founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial School for Girls at the city dump on the west side of the railroad tracks with five students, some soapbox furniture and $1.50.
She worked tirelessly to raise funds to expand the school, selling sweet potato pies and fried fish to railroad gangs, singing at fashionable hotels, and calling upon the wealthy.
Among her benefactors was James Gamble of Procter & Gamble, who sat on the college's Board of Trustees, and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller.
In 1931, her school merged with the all-boys Cookman Institute to form Bethune-Cookman College, but Dr. Bethune's influence was only beginning.
She amassed astounding political influence during the Franklin Roosevelt administration.
In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women in New York City, and was appointed as Special Assistant to the Secretary of War during World War II.
She became Director of the Division of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration, a federal agency created with Works Progress Administration funds, ensuring NYA funds helped black students.
And she parlayed a close friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt into unprecedented access to the White House, ultimately forming an advisory coalition of leaders from African American organizations into what became known as the Black Cabinet.
In 1973, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
On July 10, 1974, the anniversary of her 99th birthday, a sculpture portraying her with two children was erected in Lincoln Park in Washington D.C. -- the first monument to a black American installed on public land in the nation's capital.
Engraved on the side is a 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 a responsibility to our young people."
More about Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune:
• Obituary in Daytona Beach News-Journal: Mary McLeod Bethune Dies
• Hear Dr. Bethune's 1939 speech, "What Does American Democracy Mean To Me?"
• Dr. Bethune's life story at biography.com
• Story in the Baltimore Afro-American: Why a national monument for Mary McLeod Bethune