Education: Matriarch

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Mary McLeod Bethune starts her working day with prayer. In her Washington, D.C. office she reads to her fellow workers from The Optimist's Good Morning, a devotional hand-me-down from the late John D. Rockefeller. One of her favorite passages begins: "With this new day, O God, let some new strength be mine." The staff of the National Council of Negro Women says a fervent amen. Though she was 71 last week, Mary Bethune still runs them ragged.

Last week warmhearted Mrs. Bethune, widely regarded as her race's First Lady, paid a flying birthday visit to San Francisco, where Mayor Roger Lapham and California's Attorney General Robert Kenny helped her celebrate. (She crowed happily: "These parties are getting more interracial every year—and for that reason I enjoy them more each year.") In Washington, 12,000 fans at a special Negro ball game in Griffith Stadium sang Let Me Call You Sweetheart to the absent guest of honor. In 38 other U.S. cities, her admirers remembered the day.

You Do It. Mary Bethune knows how to make other people work. She likes to recall that her mother, an emancipated slave, bossed a family of 17 and pulled the purse-strings to boot. In West Africa, Mary's ancestors come from a matriarchal tribe where the women led their men around by the nose. She looks over a job or problem, then commands: "This and this need to be done. You do it." People seem to.

Born in a cabin in the cotton, Mary McLeod went to work early. As a child, she says, "I was a great little picker. I knew how to organize things." When she got a chance to go to school, five miles away, she taught her family every night what she had learned.'She got a scholarship at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, but went back South, disappointed, when the missions would not send her to Africa.

Then Mary got married, and set up school in 1904 in Daytona Beach, Fla. "on $1.50 and faith." Her first pupils were five little girls and her son. They used charcoal for pencils, mashed elderberries to make ink. The curriculum included manual training; her pupils repaired junk-pile furniture so they would have something to sit on.

Faith & Sweet Potatoes. In two years Mrs. Bethune's school was teaching 250 girls. By selling sweet-potato pie and ice cream to the railroad construction gangs, she raised enough money to buy the oozing city dump (known as "Hell's Hole"). Negro workmen, who took out part of their pay in tuition, built Faith Hall with secondhand bricks on 32 acres reclaimed from the dump.

Sweet-singing Mary Bethune and her girls entertained at swank Daytona hotels, passing a hat after each performance. One day a sewing-machine tycoon dropped in a $20 bill. He followed it up by visiting Mrs. Bethune's school, and eventually left it $67,000 in his will. Mrs. Bethune sought out other angels. She rode a bicycle up to the secluded front door of Ivory Soap's James Gamble, talked him into helping out the school.

Today Bethune-Cookman* is a four-year, co-ed college—with 450 students and an $800,000 campus. The emphasis is still on vocational training. Like Booker T. Washington, President Emeritus Bethune thinks Negro education's first job is to teach job skills to Negroes. (Most of Bethune-Cookman's 2,350 graduates are teachers.)

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