Mary McLeod Bethune: Bethune-Cookman University and her other Legacies

“The drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.”
Mary McLeod Bethune



“I was born and reared in the South and no southerner has greater love for the land of his birth than I. Therefore I wish the South to attain its highest possible development, and free men alone make lasting progress. Without the Negro’s exercise of the franchise, neither the white nor the black can be free” (Carter, 1937).

In a short article laced with sarcasm, Bethune was criticized in the New York Amsterdam News in 1938 for not singing the Negro National Anthem at a public event. The article titled “That Sweetheart Again,” was an inference to the prima donna image and arrogance that some observers saw in Bethune (New York Amsterdam News, 1938).

Bethune expressed strong anti South feelings in a 1943 reply letter to a black mother in Mississippi who complained that her son could not get work as a lawyer in his home state. Part of her solution was for blacks to leave the South at a rate of “a million a year, . . . [and] scatter themselves all over the country, not becoming too thickly settled in any one spot.” The Mary McLeod Bethune Papers: The Bethune Foundation Collection, Part 1, reel 11, University Publications of America: Bethesda, MD. 1997.

Let this sink in…


1904: Mary McLeod Bethune used $1.50 to open the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904.  She had five girls and her faith in God.

1932: The school became co-educational high school because of a merger with Cookman Institute for Boys in Florida.

1924: The school became affiliated with The United Methodist Church.

1931: The school became a junior college named, Bethune-Cookman College.

1941:  The College started offering four-year degrees in Liberal Arts and Teacher Education

1942: Mary McLeod Bethune retired, and James E. Colston became president.  But she resumed presidency in 1946.

1970: The College joined the United Negro College Fund and other academic and professional organizations.  It became accredited that same year by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

1975 – 2004: President Oswald P. Bronson, Sr. served and increased the majors from 120 to 37.

2004: The first women to serve as President since Bethune was Trudie Kibbe Reed.

2005: Reed launched the International Institute for Civic Participation and Social Responsibility.

2006: The institution launched its first Master’s degree program.

2007: The College achieved University status!!!!!


Mary McLeod-Bethune

Bethune proudly asserted that she was from “pure African stock,” and that her matrilineal African lineage explained her natural inclination to lead others: “Mother was of royal African blood, of a tribe of matriarchs. Throughout her bitter years of slavery she had managed to preserve a queenlike dignity.

“Young as I was, I would gather a crowd around me and like a little evangelist, I would preach, teach, or lead the singing” (Mary McLeod Bethune Papers).

One of the earliest and biggest stories about Bethune to be featured in the black press nationwide was her engineering of the 1926 NACW national conference in Oakland, California. In an auspicious reelection bid, she led a delegation of three hundred members in chartered Pullman railway cars from Chicago to Oakland. The New York Age, in bold headlines declared: “300 Colored Women Travel Across Continent To California Chartering Biggest Pullman Equipment Ever Used By Transcontinental Women Travelers” (New YorkAge, 1926).

She was described by a male co-worker as a militant feminist, because she “was determined to make the female voice heard in every discourse dealing with national or racial issues” (Waters, 127).


“To those of you with your years of service still ahead, the challenge is yours. Stop doubting yourselves. Have the courage to make up your minds and hold your decisions. Refuse to be BOUGHT for a nickel, or a million dollars, or a job!”
― Mary McLeod Bethune




Historically Black Colleges and Universities: An Encyclopedia. F. Erik Brooks and Glenn L. Starks. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011. p150-152.

McCluskey, A. T. (1999). Representing the race: Mary McLeod bethune and the press in the jim crow era. Western Journal of Black Studies, 23(4), 236.



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