Women Persuade by Rosalind Fisher
“Perhaps the greatest battle is before us, the fight for a new America: fearless,free, united, morally re-armed, in which 12 million Negroes, shoulder to shoulder with their fellow Americans, will strive that this nation under God will have anew birth of freedom.”Mary McLeod Bethune said this on Nov. 23, 1939, on a panel on America’s Town Meeting of the Air broadcast on NBC Radio discussing the question,“What Does American Democracy Mean to Me?” Dr. Bethune with perfect articulation reminded listeners that African Americans have always been willing to die for American democracy but were still shut out from its promise of freedom. What she said then is relevant today except the number of African Americans is closer to 47 million. We still need to stand together to ensure the freedom,basic human rights, and progress of America. Mary McLeod Bethune’s activism blazed a trail with her simultaneous commitments to education, Christian faith, anti-Communism, patriotism, women’s rights, and African American civil rights. Because she believed that education is important to equality, she established the Daytona Educational and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls in 1904, which by 1923 had become Bethune–Cookman College, the first accredited four-year college for blacks in Florida.Dr. Bethune was nicknamed the“First Lady of the Struggle” for her influence on the Roosevelt administration on civil rights issues. She became one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s best friends, and Mrs. Roosevelt persuaded President Roosevelt to name Dr. Bethune director of the Office of Minority Affairs in the National Youth Administration in 1935. Bethune became a member of FDR’s“black cabinet,” the only African American woman to hold a prominent post in the administration. One black Cabinet
member described her strategy for attaining her goals, “She had the most marvelous gift of affecting feminine helplessness in order to attain her aims with masculine ruthlessness.” This daughter of former slaves used her heart, intellect, and powers of persuasion with white leaders of the time to advance her vision of racial equality. The attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7,1941, led Congress to approve the creation of the Women’s Army Corps. In 1942, President Roosevelt formed the Women’s Army Corps and it was integrated because of Bethune’s influence as an advisory board member. Dr. Bethune is one of the most important early leaders in American political history because she not only advocated for racial equality but unlike the other “race leaders,” she included the struggle for gender equality in her efforts.In 1924, she was elected president of the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), a group focused on political advocacy and women’s empowerment. Dr. Bethune expanded her political knowledge and influence by serving on many committees including a special appointment by President Hoover to the National Committee on Child Welfare.Although a Republican, Dr. Bethune assumed a non-partisan stance when working on issues for education, children, African Americans, and women. She founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935 and served as vice president of the NAACP from 1940 until her death in 1955. She accomplished these things during some of the worst times for women and especially for black women because she believed in the possibility of a better world and respected the power in collaboration. The Institute for Women in Politics (IWP) also believes in the power in collaboration across political, racial, and cultural lines.
Rosalind Fisher is an instructor of sociology and women’s studies at the University of West Florida and a member of the IWP Board of Directors. To inquire about membership in the Institute,email firstname.lastname@example.org