The history of African Americans is a history of struggle and achievement against the odds in virtually all spheres of human endeavor. We offer the following biographical sketches as poignant testimony to the lessons learned from the past and as scintillating inspiration for the work we must do in the future. Some of the personalities highlighted herein are more well known than others, yet they all undoubtedly qualify for the title of "leader."
Mary McLeod Bethune
When a white playmate snatched a book away and told her that because Blacks could not read, the book was not for her, Mary McLeod Bethune was filled with her life's central mission: education.
She founded what is now Bethune-Cookman College and the National Council of Negro Women, served as an advisor on minority affairs to five Presidents, and was one of the most influential women in America in the last 10 years of her life.
The 15th child of former slaves, she left the cotton field of her childhood to attend college from 1888 to 1897, then taught at four Southern schools for African-American children. In 1904--starting with $1.50 in cash, five pupils, and a rented cottage--she founded the normal and industrial school for young African-American women in Daytona Beach, Florida, which became Bethune-Cookman College in 1928.
Bethune became the first African-American woman to head a federal office, appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt, in 1936, as director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.
Only her death in 1955, just prior to her 80th birthday, halted Mary …