Sam and Patsy McLeod had seventeen children but their fifteenth, Mary Jane, had one important distinction: she was the first one born free. Although Mary Jane McLeod Bethune was born after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, segregation and other obstacles kept “free” from meaning equal.
While God creates every person in His image, many times, mankind has rejected that ideal. In order to look at ourselves as better, stronger, and worthy, we trample what God has created and try to reframe the value that has already been given.
Mary determined that the difference between white people and black people was education. She noticed that white people could read, giving them many advantages in life.
A school for black children opened in her hometown, Mayesville, South Carolina, and Mary became a promising student. In fact, a few years into her schooling, her teacher nominated her for a scholarship to Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) in North Carolina. Once enrolled, Mary was able to study literature, Greek, Latin, the Bible, and American democracy. She excelled.
As she grew in knowledge, she began to have a strong desire to teach and hoped to become a missionary in Africa. In order to pursue this dream, Mary attended the school that is now known as Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.
With her dream in her mind, Mary continued to work hard toward her goal. However, at the end of her schooling and after applying with the Presbyterian Mission Board, she received news that there were no openings for black missionaries in Africa. Mary felt heartbroken, but her will was undeterred. She decided that if she could not go to Africa, then God must want her to teach people in the south.
She married Albertus Bethune in 1898, and they had a son, Albert. They moved to Florida and Mary started a school in 1909 with five girls and her son as students. Her school kept growing and in 1931, it merged with Cookman Institute, forming the Bethune-Cookman College, a coeducational junior college. Mary was its first president.
During her years of teaching, her dream was to teach the children’s heads, hands, and hearts. She believed that classical, practical, and spiritual education was important in the fight for equality.
Let us have the strength to press forward in this fight. In our desire for justice, God, help us have the will to move forward with the spirit of Mary McLeod Bethune. As we look toward a brighter future, may we consider how we might improve the lives of those around us by meeting their greatest needs.
-Brian for Faith in Store