Mary Jane McLeod Bethune -- By: Rochelle Sheppard

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 28:0 (NA 1996)
Article: Mary Jane McLeod Bethune
Author: Rochelle Sheppard


Mary Jane McLeod Bethune

Rochelle Sheppard

Rochelle Sheppard is an M.Div. student at ATS.

Drive motivated by vision. Excellence fueled with a spirit of determination. Each of these traits distinguish Mary Jane McLeod Bethune, a woman of power. Bethune was a woman born with a desire to make an impact in the lives of others. Her driving force and desire are most aptly seen in the words of her Last Will and Testament.

I leave you love; I leave you hope; I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one anther; I leave you a thirst for education; I leave you a respect for the use of power; I leave you faith; I leave you racial dignity; I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with you fellow men; I leave you a responsibility to our young people.1

Mary Jane McLeod Bethune was born to Samuel and Patsy McIntosh McLeod on July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina. Former slaves, Samuel and Patsy were the parents of seventeen children. Mary was the only one born free. She was born ten years after slavery was abolished. After the Emancipation Proclamation her parents continued to work for their former master until they had earned enough money to buy five acres of land. The family built their first cabin by cutting and splitting the wood themselves.

When Mary was a young child, she endured an experience she never forgot. She had gone to one of the homes in town to deliver the laundry. While there she picked up a book and the little girl of the house took it away from her saying, “You can’t read.” From then on she was determined to learn how to read and write. Within a year she was given the opportunity to go to school. Mrs. Bethune fondly said, “A knock on our door changed my life over-night.”2

Emma Wilson, a black educator from a northern Presbyterian mission established a school five miles away from the McLeod home. Mary was chosen to be the one to go to school and teach the others the three R’s. Each day Mary walked the five miles to Emma’s school. The curriculum consisted of reading, writing, arithmetic, and the Bible.

My teacher had a box of Bibles and texts, and she gave me one of each for my very own. That same day the teacher opened the Bible to John 3:16, and read: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

With these words the scales fell from my eyes and the light

came flooding in. My sense of inferiority, my fear of handic...

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