Mary McLeod Bethune & Black Women's Political Activism


Mary McLeod Bethune was a significant figure in American political history. She devoted her life to advancing equal social, economic, and political rights for blacks. She distinguished herself by creating lasting institutions that trained black women for visible and expanding public leadership roles. Few have been as effective in the development of women's leadership for group advancement. Despite her accomplishments, the means, techniques, and actions Bethune employed in fighting for equality have been widely misinterpreted. Mary McLeod Bethune and Black Women's Political Activism shows that the choices Bethune made often appear contradictory, unless one understands that she was a transitional figure with one foot in the nineteenth century and the other in the twentieth. Bethune, who lived from 1875 to 1955, struggled to reconcile her nineteenth-century notions of women's moral superiority and the changing political realities of the twentieth century. She was ahead of her time in her belief in two conceptually distinct levels of activism--one nonconfrontational and designed to slowly undermine systemic racism, the other openly confrontational and designed to challenge the most overt discrimination. Joyce A. Hanson uses a wide range of primary sources and adds a significant dimension to the historical discussion of black women's organizations. The book extends the current debate about black women's political activism and discusses the high school that Bethune founded, which later merged with the Cookman Institute to become Bethune-Cookman College. Mary McLeod Bethune and Black Women's Political Activism is important for understanding the centrality of black women to the political fightfor social, economic, and racial justice.


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