Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune: The daughter of former slaves who
became a leader in education and civil rights

A week or so ago, I featured pictures of a statue of Lincoln in a little park east of the Capitol. In addition to the tribute to the Great Emancipator, the park is also home to a statue of a little-known (at least, unfortunately, among white people), but influential civil rights activist named Mary McLeod Bethune.

Ms. Bethune's signature

The fifteenth of 17 children, Ms. Bethune was born to former slaves in South Carolina. An educator, Ms. Bethune founded an African-American all-girls school in Daytona Beach, Florida, that later merged with an all-boys school and became the Bethune-Cookman College (and now a university.) She served as its president from 1923-42 and again in 1946-47. She was also part of President Franklin Roosevelt's Black Cabinet--an informal group of black policy advisors and advocates to the president. Ms. Bethune also founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935 in New York and it later headquartered in a house on Logan Circle that is now a designated National Historic Site.

Ms. Bethune's Legacy: Equal Education for Children of Color

This statue to Ms. Bethune is located in Lincoln Park and was the first statue in the city honoring a black American. It was sculpted by Robert Berks, the same artist who sculpted the whimsical likeness of Albert Einstein and a bust of President John F. Kennedy for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. In this tribute to Ms. Bethune, she is seen supported by a cane given to her by President Roosevelt and handing a copy of her legacy to two eager children.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 09/08


Anonymous said...

Americans are tired of religious zealots forcing their half-baked ideas on the rest of us. I hope that this election brings us closer to the libertarian ideals that are really what binds us together with a common ground. It's common sense!

JM said...

The 1st photo is awesome! And so is A. Lincoln on the previous day! I really like your work very much!

Virginia said...

Oh I love this tribute and your photos are remarkable. Another site I must see on another visit. Of course I dearlly love the Einstein sculpture. My dear friend who lived there at the time took us and it was such a hidden treasure. I am so impressed with the sculpture you have shared today. Well done!

Maya said...

Awesome story and that first photo is wonderful! Can you imagine how hard it must have been for her to do all this in those times? Amazing.

D.C. Confidential said...

Anon: If you mean, it's time we lived in a country where equality is a reality for everyone and not just a select few, I agree! I, too, wish we could focus more on what we have in common and less on what divides us. Seems it would save a lot of time, money, and heartache.

JM: Thanks! Most of my photography is just pure luck.

VJ: I'm glad you like this one. I'm discovering all kinds of new places and things, too, as I move around the city looking for more than just stuff in the touristy spots.

Maya: I can't imagine, but what she achieved is pretty incredible!

Lara said...

wonderful photos, and a great story about how education can change lives!

Professor said...

I love the photos and the history lesson. i enjoy your blog so much for most of the time I learn something AND and visually entertained!

The first photo is my favorite- just love it!

In my next trip to DC I want to see the city the way you show it here!

D.C. Confidential said...

Lara: Thanks! Ironically, education and intellectualism are being put down in this country right now by one of our presidential candidates as "elitist".

Prof.: Thank you! The next time you're in town, give a shout. We'll go on a safari to see this gem and find others like it.

Capt. Ben said...

As a wee lad in the mid to late 1970's, I lived a couple blocks south of this park ("Lincoln Park" by the way), on Independence Ave. This was in the pre-gentrification era, when the neighborhood was 97% African American (or "Black" as we said back in those days of the dinosaur)...

This was the park where my friends and I would play tag & football, chase squirrels... at the same time the Mary McLeod Bethune statue was built, they also built next to it the first playground any of us had ever seen where the equipment was made of wood and rope (instead of steel bars) and surrounded by a soft layer of wood-chips (instead of blacktop littered with broken glass... all bottles back then were made of glass of all things)

I remember the un-veiling of the McLeod-Bethune statue... us little kids in the neighborhood had never seen sculpture that looked like that, all textured in a way that reminded us of the wood-chips around the new playground equipment.

About the same time, at my nearby Bryan Elementary school (on Independence Ave. btwn 13th and 14th, where I was the only kid of pale complexion) we learned all about Mary McLeod Bethune in anticipation of the new statue in our local park.

Now there are few folks of color in the neighborhood... and my old Bryan Elem. is now converted into "Bryan Lofts," multi-million dollar condominiums occupying my former classrooms.

The statues always take me back to the good ole days, though... Somewhere I have a picture I took of my friend Donald standing up there posing like the statue kids... I'll have to dig that one out.

Thanks for the memory! Terrific photos!

D.C. Confidential said...

Capt. Ben: Thank you for this memory-filled comment. I love it when a picture I've posted evokes a memory for someone who lived here long before I did. Lincoln Park is a lovely area, but as you point out, much changed demographically. Sometimes, I don't know whether that's a good thing.

Capt. Ben said...

After visiting your post, I did go digging for that photo I remembered... my friend posing on the McCleod-Bethune statue.

I think it is taken in spring or fall of 1975, about a year after the statute went up... My friend and I were at the park testing out my new skateboard... no kickboard and steel wheels... and my new Kodak instamatic with 120 film, so it may have been soon after Christmas.

Anyway, I put it on my Picasa site:

Lincoln Park in mid 1970s

D.C. Confidential said...

Capt. Ben: That photo rocks! Thank you for sharing. I just left a comment on your blog asking you to email me privately. In case you missed it, would you email me at jmkincaidATaoldotcom, please? I have a question for you re: that photo.