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How Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune impacted Central Florida

Bethune changed the face of education, healthcare in Daytona Beach

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – She is an accomplished educator, politician, presidential advisor and civil rights activist. She also made a huge impact on the Central Florida community. In honor of Black History Month, News 6 is remembering Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.

Bethune was born in Mayesville, South Carolina in 1875 to former slaves and had 16 siblings, according to Biography.com.

During her childhood, she focused on her education and became the only child in her family to go to school, eventually graduating from the Scotia Seminary for Girls in 1893.

Bethune founded Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904, according the Bethune-Cookman University. The school underwent growth and name changes and in 1919, the name was changed to Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute.

Mary McLeod BethuneDaytona Beach, FloridaAn American educator and civil rights leader, Bethune is best known for starting a school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida, that eventually became Bethune-Cookman University
Mary McLeod BethuneDaytona Beach, FloridaAn American educator and civil rights leader, Bethune is best known for starting a school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida, that eventually became Bethune-Cookman University

Then in 1923, the Institute combined with Cookman Institute for Men, creating Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach. The college was one of the few places African-American students could pursue a college degree. Bethune left the college in 1942.

Since 1943, more than 13,000 students have graduated from Bethune-Cookman University. Currently, the school serves over 4,000 students and is registered as a historically black university in the National Register of Historic Places.

Alongside the college, Bethune changed the Daytona Beach community by opening a hospital to serve the black community. Bethune saw a need when one of the black students was turned away from the hospital.

She established McLeod Hospital in Daytona Beach in 1911. It worked in tandem with McLeod Training School for Nurses, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In addition to education, Bethune was involved in politics. She became a national leader on issues related to civil rights, education, women and young people.

According to university officials, Bethune became the president of the State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, which helped her fight against school segregation and inadequate healthcare for black children.

Bethune also served as the president of the Florida chapter of the National Association of Colored Women for many years. In 1924, she became the organization’s national leader.

She also helped advise five U.S. presidents, including President Calvin Coolidge, President Herbert Hoover, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry Truman.

U.S. President Harry Truman, far left, poses with, left to right, Mary McLeod Bethune, retiring founder-president of the National Council of Negro Women, Madame Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Ambassador of India to the United States, and Dr. Ralph Bunche, United Nations Director of Trusteeship, in Washington D.C., on Nov. 15, 1949.  They were presented with citations for outstanding citizenship.  (AP Photo/Harvey Georges)
U.S. President Harry Truman, far left, poses with, left to right, Mary McLeod Bethune, retiring founder-president of the National Council of Negro Women, Madame Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, Ambassador of India to the United States, and Dr. Ralph Bunche, United Nations Director of Trusteeship, in Washington D.C., on Nov. 15, 1949. They were presented with citations for outstanding citizenship. (AP Photo/Harvey Georges) (AP1949)

She held many positions, including a special adviser to Roosevelt and the director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. She also had a lifelong friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

After her involvement in national politics, Bethune returned to Florida to retire. She died in Daytona Beach in 1955. Since her death, she has been honored in many ways. The U.S. Postal Service used a stamp with her likeness, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and statues of her likeness are now on display.

This year, a statue of Bethune will go on display at the National Statuary Hall. In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis sent a letter to the Architect of the U.S. Capitol officially requesting the replacement of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith’s statue in National Statuary Hall with Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.

Bethune will represent the first black person to have a statue installed inside the hall by a state commission. Rosa Parks, who also has a statue inside the hall, was added by special act of Congress in 2005.

The National Statuary Hall statue is not the first statue in District of Columbia honoring Bethune. A statue of her is also on display at Lincoln Park in the District of Columbia.

The Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation in Daytona Beach.
The Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation in Daytona Beach. (The Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation)

It features an elderly Bethune handing a copy of her legacy over to two young black children. She is supporting herself with a cane, which was given to her by Roosevelt.

Her statue was unveiled on the anniversary of what would have been her 99th birthday, July 10, 1974. This is the first monument to honor a black woman in a public park in the District of Columbia.

To learn more about Bethune and her legacy, you can visit the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation.

Bethune purchased the home in 1913 and lived there until her passing in 1955. In 1974, her home was awarded designation of National Historic Landmark by the United States Secretary of Interior.

The historic home is on the campus of Bethune-Cookman University, at 640 Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard in Daytona Beach, FL 32114.

Click here to read Bethune’s last will and testament.


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