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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
Jim Crow Stories
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Jim Crow Stories

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Mary MCleod Bethune (1875 - 1955
Mary McLeod Bethune Mary McLeod (later Bethune) was the daughter of former slaves, born into a family of seventeen children. She graduated from Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) in Concord, North Carolina, in 1893 and from the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in 1895. She married Albertus L. Bethune in 1898, and taught in a succession of small Southern schools, one of which was the Haines School, run by Lucy Laney. In 1904 Bethune, who had moved to Florida, decided to open her own school on the east coast of that state.
"I cannot rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl lacking the chance to prove his worth." School

Begging and borrowing whatever she could, Bethune opened the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach. She worked tirelessly to build the school, winning support from both the African-American and white communities. She became politically active and fought for women's suffrage, especially for African-American women. When women won the right to vote in 1920, Bethune organized both African-American men and women to go to the polls in Daytona Beach. Bethune knocked on doors to raise money to pay for the poll tax, a fee that had to be paid before a person would be allowed to vote. (Whites had imposed the tax as a means to keep poor blacks from voting.) Since a literacy test was also required, Bethune held special classes to instruct voters on how to pass the test.

The Ku Klux Klan, hearing of her activities, threatened to burn down her school. She stood all night in front of the campus ready to defend it, but the Klan never arrived. The next day, she led some 100 people to the polls to vote. In 1923 the school was merged with the Cookman Institute for Men, then in Jacksonville, Florida, and came to be known as Bethune-Cookman College. At the same time, Bethune became a leader in the women's club movement. She was twice elected president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) in the 1920s. Her efforts on behalf of education and of improved racial relations brought her national prominence. She was appointed by Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover to serve on the National Child Welfare Commission.

After Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected, Bethune became an extremely close friend of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, whom she had met years earlier. Bethune played a major role in making President Roosevelt aware of the plight of black people in the United States. She was part of an informal group of black presidential advisors known as the "black cabinet" and given her close ties to the Roosevelts, often acted on their behalf to advocate for black rights directly with the president. During the 1930s, she was appointed to several government positions, including director of the Division of Negro Affairs at the National Youth Administration. She was also an advisor on minority affairs to President Roosevelt during World War II, and was responsible for seeing that black women became officer candidates within the U.S. Women's Army Corps (WAACs). She held many leadership positions in the 1940s and 1950s, including vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), from 1940 to 1955. She received many honors and recognition for her work.

--Richard Wormser

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In the early 20th century, her school's library was the only source of free reading material for African Americans in the state of Florida.
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