I live near Lincoln Park in Washington, D.C. where, at one end, Abraham Lincoln breaks the chains holding a black man in bondage while, at the other end, Mary McLeod Bethune invites two children into the world of learning. When I moved to this neighborhood almost forty years ago the statue of Bethune was brand new and I knew nothing about the remarkable woman it commemorates. Tomorrow — July 10th — is the 135th anniversary of her birth and I and many others will honor her in the park for her career as a teacher, college founder, promoter of education and professional advancement for women. James Roosevelt, Jr. a grandson of one of the four presidents to whom she was an advisor, will be among the speakers.
What fascinates me right this minute is the connection I just made between Bethune and Zora Neale Hurston who, in 1934, applied for a fellowship from the Rosenwald Fund. Under “Positions held — professional, teaching, scientific, administrative, business” Hurston lists “Teaching Drama, Bethune-Cookman College, 1933-34 under the direction of Mary McLeod Bethune.” That’s a class I would like to have taken! More to come on Hurston, whose autobiography Dust Tracks on a Road I am reading and loving. I don’t believe she mentions Bethune or Rosenwald but I’m not there yet.
Here is a picture of Bethune with students at the school for girls she founded in Daytona, Florida. And perhaps my favorite picture is this one of Bethune going into the White House in 1950. What an amazing women — one of 17 children of parents who had been slaves. I look forward to learning more about her and to visiting Cookman-Bethune University some day.