The City of Sumter & Sumter Tourism Present
a Black History Month Tribute to
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune
Narrated by Colette Daniels
Just outside Mayesville, South Carolina sits a small building of unpainted wood, with a shake roof and a door flanked by two shuttered windows. It’s a recreation of the home in which Samuel and Patsy McLeod welcomed the 15th of their 17 children in 1875. From this cabin, Mary Jane McLeod, born into a family of former slaves, achieved greatness through her complete commitment to education. A list of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s accomplishments could fill volumes, and has.
From an early age, Dr. Bethune had a strong desire to learn. The only child in the family to complete her formal education, she walked several miles a day to and from the Mayesville School. She graduated from Scotia Seminary, followed by Chicago’s Moody Institute, and embarked upon a career as an educator, beginning at Kendall Institute in Sumter. She was the founder of what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Her life was devoted to improving opportunities for young people of color, and along the way, she made a difference to the entire world.
In addition to founding the school that bears her name, Dr. Bethune held leadership positions in a number of organizations, including the NAACP, National Youth Administration, the Urban League, and the Women’s Army Corps. She became an advisor to Presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. As president of the National Council of Negro Women, she attended the founding conference of the United Nations.
A strong proponent of civil rights, Dr. Bethune lived to see the US Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Brown versus the Board of Education. Following her death in 1955, she has continued to be remembered. In 1974, she became the first black woman to be honored by a public sculpture within the District of Columbia. In 1985, the US Postal Service issued a postage stamp in her honor. In 2008, the SCDOT Transportation Enhancement Program opened the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Nature Trail in Mayesville. In 2013, the state of South Carolina unveiled a license plate featuring her image. Her Washington, DC home is a National Historic Site, and her final home in Daytona Beach is a National Historic Landmark.
The character of this remarkable woman is best reflected, however, in these words 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.”
By any standards, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s accomplishments were remarkable. But in order to appreciate fully what she made of her life, take a drive to a site two miles from US 401. The nine-acre Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial Park contains a replica of the house where she was born, an outdoor pavilion, playground, and picnic area, and is maintained by the NCNW.
The landscape of woods and farmland is probably not much different than it was more than a hundred years ago, when a small girl took the first steps of a long journey toward her place in history. Take a stroll along the nature trail, and remember the inscription on the pedestal of her sculpture in Washington’s Lincoln Park: “Let her works praise her.”
This is Mary McLeod Bethune’s story. This is our story. This is the story of Sumter.