Quotes to Live By: Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune was not just an educator. She was a business woman, a civil rights leader, a champion for women voters, and so much more.
If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves and allow those responsible to salve their conscience by believing that they have our acceptance and concurrence. We should, therefore, protest openly everything... that smacks of discrimination or slander.Mary McLeod Bethune

I didn't plan to start Black History Month off with Mary McLeod Bethune because I think most people know who she is. Her legacy is pretty well preserved and she was one of the people I learned about as a child. However, when I read the quote above, I couldn't pass it up. Her quote says it plain and direct, we should never accept discrimination and we should never allow those who dole out discrimination to think we're OK with it.

When I posted this quote on Instagram ( follow me!), I wanted information to place in the caption about her, so I went searching for more than what came to the top of my head. Even though she's a familiar name and face, I found out a lot more than what I'd previously known. I'll share what stood out to me, but you should go back a re-read her history too.


Without faith, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible. Mary McLeod Bethune
Everyone knows she was an educator and that the school she founded eventually became the school we know today as Bethune-Cookman University. What I didn't know is that she actually went to seminary school and originally sought do missionary work.[1] The young adult group at my church is currently doing small groups with The Purpose Driven Life and throughout the book, the author talks about how worshipping God and doing God's work isn't always the traditional or obvious methods. Dr. Bethune[2] may not be classified as missionary by most people, but she touched many lives and was able to proclaim the gospel while fighting social injustice. Fighting social injustice is missionary work.

When She Lived

I knew she was "from way back," but I never really processed what time period she lived in. Black history figures are usually categorized as slave era (i.e., Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman), civil rights era (i.e., Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks), or modern (i.e., Barak Obama), but each of these eras cover large periods of time. I think this is one of the reasons we have so much trouble understanding the effects of slavery and racial discrimination on our country today. When I looked at Dr. Bethune's biography and saw the dates in which she lived and operated, I discovered a whole new layer of connection.
  • She was born in 1875 in the south, which means her parents were slaves and had only been free for about 12 years when she was born.
  • Since she had 16 siblings and was one of the youngest siblings, there's a high probability that some of her siblings also worked as slaves in their childhood
  • She moved to Florida, where she opened a boarding school, in 1904, just 1 year after my grandfather—not my great-grandfather, my grandfather—was born.
  • She died in 1955; my dad was 5 years old and my mom was 2.

Where She Lived

Possibly because her role in founding Bethune-Cookman is what I knew her best for, I always thought she was born and raised in Florida. To my surprise, she was born in Maysville, SC, just 1.5 hours away from my own hometown. Not that it matters to most of y'all, I found it quite interesting that her life took her from Maysville, SC to Central Florida, while mine took me from Conway, SC to Southern Florida.

Businesswoman and Entrepreneur

I always thought of Dr. Bethune as an educator, but she was actually a businesswoman, too! She co-founded an insurance company and co-owned a resort.


She also founded the National Council for Negro Women, which still exists today. I didn't know this even existed. "NCNW’s mission is to lead, advocate for and empower women of African descent, their families and communities."[3]


  1. Debra Michals, PhD. "Mary McLeod Bethune". National Women's History Museum. 2015
  2. "Mary McLeod Bethune receives honorary doctorate". Central Florida Memory, via University of Central Florida; visited February 2019
  3. "Our Mission". National Council for Negro Women; 2018
  4. Mary McLeod Bethune. "Quotes". Brainy Quote; visited February 2019

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