Location: Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C.
Artist: Robert Berks
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was an American educator, philanthropist, womanist, humanitarian and a champion of civil rights. She has been known as the "First Lady of Struggle" by her commitment and drive to make better lives happen for African Americans. The Black Press named her the "Female Booker T.Washington" and also named "First Lady of Negro America" by Ebony Magazine.
Mrs.Bethune was born in Mayesville, South Carolina, to parents who were working as slaves, she began to work in the fields with her family from age 5. She took an early interest in education when realising the only difference between the white and coloured were that the white had access to education. The first one in her family to get an education, she would walk 5 miles each day to school and come home to teach her family everything she learnt during her day.
Mrs.Bethune attended college in hopes to become a missionary in Africa but ended up starting the first school for African American girls in Daytona, South Carolina. This later merged with a private institute for African American boys known as 'Bethune - Cookman School'. Mr.s Bethune had a dream to demonstrate what educated African Americans could do and achieve. She was one of the first women in the world to become a president of a college.
In the early 1900's, America lacked proper health care that would help people of colour. Mrs. Bethune had an idea to start a hospital after a fatal incident occurred with one of her students and was refused help by a white nurse. She decided that the black community needed a hospital and after finding support, she was able to open the first hospital for people of colour in Daytona. The hospital and nurses were praised for their effects during the 1918 influenza pandemic. It wasn't until the 1960's until people of colour were allowed to integrate into public hospitals.
Mrs. Bethunes progression in the Black Community as an active leader was able to make incredible change. After Women were given the right to vote, Mrs.Bethune continued her fight to allow coloured voters in the polls, she provided literacy training and planned mass voter registration drives
Starting a number of clubs and associations, she made a wave of difference in so many communities. She served as the President in the Florida chapter of the National Association of Coloured Women which promoted the needs of Black Women and worked at taking their voice back from white administrators. 'Southeastern Association of Coloured Women's Club' was made to help reach out specifically to white women in the South East to discuss and educate on interracial issues and gain their help in getting their rights. The 'National Council of Negro Women' was made to bring 28 different Black Women together to help solve theirs and their communities problems. The 'National Youth Administration' gave over 300,000 young black men employment and education opportunities. Mrs.Bethune also co-funded the 'United Negro College Fund' which still goes on to offer scholarships, mentorships and job opportunities to people of colour.
Most known for her work with the Black Cabinet and the Civil Rights movement, Mrs. Bethune formed a close relationship with Elenor & Franklin Roosevelt, challenging any previous ideas of segregation within the White House. This friendship was able to influence politics and funds to benefit the Black Community.
Mary McLeod Bethune is one of the most incredible women in History, not only the story of America but the World would be dramatically altered without her existence, influence and dream.
"World peace and brotherhood are based on a common understanding of the contributions and cultures of all races and creeds" - Mary McLeod Bethune
The statue features an elderly Mrs. Bethune handing a copy of her legacy to two young black children. Mrs. Bethune is supporting herself by a cane given to her by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The three figures of the statue are placed on a tiered pedestal that forms a table.
It is the first monument to honour an African American and a woman in a public park in Washington, D.C. The 17-foot bronze statue was sculpted by Robert Berks and was unveiled on July 10 1974, on the anniversary of her 99th birthday.