The fifteenth child born to former slaves, Mary McLeod Bethune was the only member of her family to go to school. She eventually received a scholarship to Scotia seminary where she studied to be a missionary. But instead of Africa, where she’d dreamed of serving, Bethune was to become a missionary of justice and equality in her own country—the United States of America.
Bethune founded a school for African-American women in 1904 that what would become Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach.
Along with her efforts in education, her civil rights work had earned her a national platform by the mid 1920’s. Bethune would go on to serve as an advisor on housing, child welfare, and minority issues to three American presidents. And Eleanor Roosevelt considered her one of her most trusted friends.
Mary Bethune saw opportunities where others saw obstacles. When she learned that a young black student had been refused admittance to a hospital in Daytona Beach, she helped open one that served the African American community. During both World Wars, she pushed for integration in the American Red Cross and organized the first officer’s candidate school for black women. And when Florida segregation law restricted blacks from using public beaches, she raised money to buy two miles of coastline as well as the surrounding homes. She and her partners then sold the homes to African-American families, and opened up the beach to people of all races.
She was fond of saying, “Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.” But Scripture tells us that faith without works is dead. Bethune is not memorable because she had faith, but because she had a faith that worked. And she never stopped working—for equality and justice, for all.
And the American dream is more than just a dream to millions of people because of her.
Mary Bethune is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.