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Remembering the life and legacy of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune

Museum open to public displays life of BC-U founder

As part of Black History Month, News 6 is honoring the life and legacy of Bethune Cookman University’s founder, Dr. Mary Mcleod Bethune.

Bethune was born to former slaves and later paved the way for higher education for African Americans.

“She always found a way to spend time with the family away from all the diligent work that she put into building this institution,” her great-grandson Charles Bethune said as he recalled some of the stories his father told him about his great grandmother. “Her goal was to try to educate as many black boys and girls that she could to build them a foundation to be successful in the world."

In 1904, Dr. Bethune opened the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for negro girls--with only 5 little girls. Over the years the school expanded and in 1923 it merged with Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida and in 1931 became Bethune-Cookman University.

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

“The legacy she’s left is to continue to allow kids the opportunity to graduate with a college degree,” Charles Bethune said. “Living in her footsteps gave me a lot of joy and pride but at the same time I knew I could never do the great things that she has done.”

Dr. Bethune became one of the most important black educators, civil, women’s rights leaders and was an adviser to four U.S. presidents.

“She did a lot of great things for younger African Americans during that time particularly supporting and promoting education under Roosevelt and Truman,” Tasha Lucas-Youmans, the library dean said.

Bethune’s home which stands among Bethune Cookman University was turned into the Mary Mcleod Bethune Foundation, a museum that displays the life of Dr. Bethune. A place where she invited some high profile names.

“The likes of Langston Hughes, Eleanor Roosevelt...James Gamble of Proctor & Gamble,” Youmans said.

Dr. Bethune was also friends with Albert Einstein. Among correspondence left by Dr. Bethune, letters demonstrate the friendship she had with the German theoretical physicist.

Inside her home office, the walls are lined with recognition plaques, letters from school and government officials, and several books Bethune read--including a copy of an Ebony magazine from 1953 that features Mary Mcleod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt on the cover. The first lady was a close friend of Bethune, even staying as a guest at her home. And when baseball player, Jackie Robinson was in Daytona, she also offered him her home to stay.

With the exception of a TV and two rocking chairs, every piece of furniture and decor in the home is original. One of the bedrooms inside the home is called the Sunroom, where pictures of community leaders, dignitaries and politicians are seen throughout, some signed.

A photo or Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune's home office.
A photo or Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune's home office.

And in Bethune’s bedroom, two pictures hang to the side of the bed -- one of her parents, Patsy and Samuel Mcleod, and a picture of the log cabin where Bethune was born in South Carolina -- a reminder of her roots.

“I always encourage kids that it’s not where you start it’s where you end and if you provide yourself and opportunity to be great, you can be great,” her great-grandson said.

The Mary Mcleod Bethune Foundation is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours are available on the weekends by appointment only.


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