Daily readings about people, places, and events in American history.
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October 3rd
Mary McLeod Bethune
As a girl, Mary McLeod Bethune dreamed of becoming a missionary in Africa. Born in 1875 to parents who had been slaves, she grew up near Maysville, South Carolina, working in cotton fields. Her burning desire to learn made her the star student in Maysville’s one-room school for black children. Scholarships led to more schooling in North Carolina, and then at Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions in Chicago. After finishing her studies, she learned there were “no openings for Negro missionaries in Africa.”

Undeterred, she embarked on a career as an educator. On October 3, 1904, with $1.50 in cash – all the money she had – she opened the Daytona Literacy and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls in a cottage in Daytona Beach, Florida. The school started with five pupils. Bethune used crates for desks, made ink from elderberries, and sold sweet potato pies to raise funds. She convinced wealthy businessmen to support her efforts. “Invest in a human soul,” she urged them. The school grew, and today it lives on as Bethune-Cookman University.

One night in 1920, eighty hooded Ku Klux Klansmen appeared outside the school, waving a burning cross. They had heard Bethune was registering black voters, and threatened to burn the school. If you do, we’ll rebuild it, she answered. The Klansmen rode away, and the next day Bethune led a procession of blacks to the polls.

Her courage won the admiration of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1936, she became the first black woman to head a federal agency, the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. Bethune joined other prominent blacks to form FDR’s “black cabinet,” an informal committee that advised the president on racial issues. “There can be no divided democracy, no class government, no half-free county, under the Constitution,” she wrote. Her life moved the country toward those ideals.

American History Parade
1899
John S. Thurman of St. Louis patents the first motor-driven vacuum cleaner, described as a “pneumatic carpet renovator.”

1904
Mary McLeod Bethune opens the Daytona Literacy and Industrial School for Training Negro Girls.

1922
Rebecca L. Felton becomes the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate when the governor of Georgia appoints her to fill a vacancy.

1955
Captain Kangaroo and The Mickey Mouse Club debut on TV.

1974
Frank Robinson of the Cleveland Indians becomes the first black manager in baseball’s major leagues.
This content is courtesy of The American Patriot's Almanac
© 2008, 2010 by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb
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