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Black History Month


Bethune fought for education for blacks

Mary McLeod Bethune was a civil rights activist, political speaker and teacher. But most of all she's remembered for contributing knowledge and education to the black women of Florida.

Born in 1875, the youngest of 17 children, she was the only one in her family to attend school, eventually winning a scholarship and graduating from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. Because her parents, former slaves, chose her to go to school, she felt a responsibility to make them proud.

So she set out to improve the conditions for black people.

In her travels, she ''found children who had never seen a book, who had never learned the basics of hygiene and sanitation,'' she once said. ''And it made me miserable.''

Bethune then set out to inspire ''even God's lowliest servants to rise up, to overcome any obstacle.''

Perhaps her most lasting legacy is the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute For Girls, which she started in 1904 ''with a $1.50 and faith in God.''

In addition to academics at the Institute, black girls learned to sew, cook, iron and wash. Bethune believed delivering these services to the wealthy white residents of Daytona was a way for the young girls to earn a living and advance in life.

It wasn't easy trying to fund the school, though. Bethune sold sweet potato pies and embarked on an exhausting speaking tour, during which she called for civil rights and greater opportunities for blacks. The school became Bethune-Cookman College in 1923 after it merged with the Cookman Institute for boys.

Bethune was also head of the National Association of Colored Women, which fought for women's suffrage and an end to the lynchings in the South.

In politics, she directed the National Youth Administration, making her the first black woman to head a federal office.

Bethune died of a heart attack in May 1955.

-- By Angela Dyer and E. Dyer

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