Mary McLeod Bethune was born in 1875, the last of seventeen children born to former slaves in a log cabin on a plantation in Marysville, South Carolina. She was the only one of the McLeod children to be born into freedom.
As a young child, Mary showed an unusual interest in books and reading, but in those days it was, unfortunately, not the custom to educate African Americans. Nevertheless, a charitable organization interested in providing educational opportunities for children established a school near Mary’s home. Her parents could scrape together only enough money to pay the tuition for one of their children, and Mary was chosen.
When she grew up, Mary retained her strong desire to extend educational opportunities to other African Americans. In 1904 she founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. This school is now known as Bethune Cookman University.
In her later years, Mary became a close friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and also a trusted advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt, who appointed her the head of the National Youth Administration in 1936. In 1945, she was appointed by President Harry Truman to be the only woman of color present at the founding meeting of the United Nations. This celebrated educator passed away peacefully in 1955.
For all her accomplishments, Mary McLeod Bethune is truly a chalkboard champion.