Black Lives Matter-- Mary McLeod Bethune & Coretta Scott King


I only have a few more people on my list for our Black Lives Matter Series. I have been saving these two women for the end but wanted to share them because today is World Teacher Day. These two were both activists. We will start with Mary McLeod Bethune because she was a teacher!

Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune portrait

Mary Jane McLeod was born July 10, 1875 near Maysville, South Carolina. Her parents were slaves. Her parents were Samuel and Patsy McLeod. Mary Jane was the fifteenth of their seventeen kids. Her mother continued to work for the family after slavery was outlawed until she could buy land for her family. They grew cotton. By age nine, Mary Jane could pick 250 pounds of cotton in a day. 

At age 10, Mary enrolled in the one-room Trinity Presbyterian Mission School. She was the one and only child in her family to go to school. She walked miles each day to and from school and did her best to share her new knowledge with her family. It was there where Mary learned to read and as she noted later in life, the whole world opened up to her. In 1894 Mary Jane graduated from Scotia Seminary, a boarding school in North Carolina. She attended Dwight Moody's Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago, Illinois. She however did not have a church to sponsor a missionary trip so she became a teacher. She began teaching at the Haines Institute in Augusta, Georgia.
Mary McLeod Bethune with a Line of Girls from the School WDL4013
Mary McLeod Bethune with Her Students

Next she taught at the Kendall Institute in Sumpter, South Carolina. While teaching in South Carolina she married Albertus Bethune. He was a fellow teacher. They had a son in 1899. They moved to Palatka, Florida, where Mary worked for a Presbyterian church and sold insurance. Their marriage ended in 1904. She was determined to support her son and opened a boarding school, the Daytona Beach Literary and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls. Eventually her school became a college and merged with the all male Cookman Institute and became the Bethune-Cookman College in 1929. It issued its first degrees in 1943. 

Mary was very active in gender and racial equality. She was the president of State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs where she fought against segregation and inadequate healthcare for Black children. She led voter registrations in 1920 after women were granted the vote. In 1924 she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs. In 1935 she became the founding president of National Council of Negro Women. During the Great Depression she played a role in the transition of the Black people from the Republican Party (Lincoln's party) to the Democrat Party. Mary was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1936 President Franklin D. Roosevelt named Mary director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. She kept this position until 1944. She was also a leader in the FDR's unofficial Black cabinet. 

In 1937 Mary organized a conference on the Problems of the Negro and Negro Youth and worked to end lynching. In 1940 she became the vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP). She kept this position for the rest of her life. In 1942 the Women's Army Corps was created and Mary served on its advisory board and made sure it was racially integrated. President Harry S. Truman appointed her to the founding conference of the United Nations in 1945. She was the only woman of color at it.

When a Black student was turned away from a hospital, Mary opened a hospital to serve the Black community. She used her influences and power to fill needs of others whenever she saw them. She had a vision of what the world should be and worked towards it. She lived a very faithful life and found prayer very important. During the World Wars Mary pushed to integrate the American Red Cross and Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. Her life was spent educating and helping the Blacks and working towards true equality. 

Mary also wrote for the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago Defender. She also owned a resort in Daytona, Florida and co-founded the Central Life Insurance Company of Tampa. 

She died on May 18, 1955 in Daytona, Florida. I believe her last will and testament really shares who Mary McLeod Bethune was. In 1974 her life was celebrated with a memorial statue in Washington, D.C. and a postage stamp in 1985. 


Coretta Scott King

Coretta King 12 (49489717642)
Coretta Scott King by John Mathew Smith & from Laurel Maryland, USA / CC BY-SA

Now we all know Coretta Scott King as the wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but she stands on her own as well. Coretta Scott was born on April 27, 1927 in Marion, Alabama. She graduated valedictorian from Lincoln High School. She got her bachelor's degree in music and education from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  Next she went to study at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. She earned a degree in voice and violin. It was while she was in Boston when she met her Martin Luther King, Jr. He was attending Boston University and working on his doctorate. They got married on June 18, 1953. 

In September 1954 they moved to Montgomery, Alabama where Coretta took on the responsibilities of being the pastor's wife. They had four children together and Coretta devoted her life raising them while her husband was working. She did however stay active in the movement including giving speeches at churches, civic, college, fraternal, and peace groups. She also conceived and performed Freedom Concerts. They combined prose and poetry with music selections. They were significant fundraisers for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She also stood by her husband's side in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. 

Coretta traveled with her husband to Ghana, Mexico, India, and Norway for various events and pilgrimages including Dr. King receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Mrs. King also functioned as a liaison to peace and justice organizations and as a mediator to public officials on behalf of the unheard. In the 1960s she became the first woman to deliver the Class Day address at Harvard University and the first woman to preach a statutory service at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. In 1962 she served as a Women's Strike for Peace delegate to the 17-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. 

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Four days later Coretta led the sanitary workers march that her husband had been planning. In 1969 Coretta authored My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. Coretta founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. She served as the president and CEO from its exception. In 1974 Coretta formed the Full Employment Action Council. She served as the Co-Chair of the Council. The Council is a broad coalition of over 100 religious, labor, business, civil, and women's rights organizations dedicated to a national policy of full employment and equal economic opportunity. Once the formation of Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site, which includes his birthplace, Coretta dedicated the King Center on its ground in 1981. 

Coretta demonstrated against apartheid in South Africa. She also wrote as a syndicated columnist and was a contributor for CNN. She also saw the win of having her husband's birthday made into a holiday in 1983. In 1995 she passed the reins of the King Center to her son, Dexter, but remained in the public eye. In 1997 she called for the retrial of her husband's assassin, James Earl Ray. He died the following year though. 

In August 2005 Coretta suffered from a stroke. She died on January 30, 2006, while seeking treatment for ovarian cancer in a clinic in Playas de Rosarito, Mexico. Her funeral was held February 7, 2006 in Georgia. Four presidents and one future president was in attendance at her funeral. 


Talk about two strong women who have truly made a difference in our country. Next week we will be skipping a week and focusing on Native Americans for Indigenous People Day. I hope you will join us!