Main Menu

The ripples from Mary McLeod Bethune's extraordinary life continue today

The ripples from Mary McLeod Bethune's extraordinary life continue today

Conference News Inclusivity Social Justice


Trinity Allen is heading into her junior year at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.

She knew about the school's namesake, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, before she enrolled there. However, as she learned, there's a difference between knowing about someone and experiencing that person's impact firsthand.

And Trinity found the experience changed her life in ways she could not imagine.

"I did some projects about her in high school," she said. "But when I got here and saw the results of her legacy, the way it holistically developed people, it gave me a lot of hope.

"As an upcoming Black lady, to see someone like her overcome the obstacles she did and still make a big impact shows me that I can do the same." 

The marble statue of Mary McLeod Bethune will be unveiled on July 13 at Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.--Photo courtesy of Nancy Lohman

That impact is about to be memorialized in a way that a young Mary McLeod could never have imagined when she started the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in 1904. She had $1.50 in working capital and convinced Daytona Beach city leaders to let her use an abandoned garbage dump for the school's site.

On July 13, Dr. Bethune, the 15th child of former slaves, will have an 8-foot tall, 6,130-pound work of art chiseled from marble formally take its place in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall. The statue will show her in the role she was best suited to, that of an educator.

Each state is allowed to honor two citizens in such a way. Dr. Bethune's statue, created by sculptor Nilda Comas, replaces the one of a Confederate general who supported slavery. It took an act of the Florida Legislature to make the change, but there was rare bipartisan agreement about what needed to be done.

Trinity Allen's parents were students at Bethune-Cookman when they met, courted, and became engaged.

Her father, Rev. Dr. David Allen, is the Superintendent of the North Central District in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. He has been an instructor at the university.

Her mother, Rev. Courtney Allen, is a pastor at Stewart Memorial UMC in Daytona Beach. The church sits on Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard near the university campus, which is appropriate because Dr. Bethune's legacy is never far from Courtney Allen's heart.

"I am one of Mary's daughters, figuratively, spiritually, in more ways than one. She represents so many mothers. She was a mother," Courtney said.

"What she was able to do in the world was amazing. She automatically inherited many daughters, and I am one of them. And no good parent withholds things from their daughters."

She initially was attracted to B-CU because of the university's renowned Concert Chorale under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Rebecca Walker Steele.

"I was awestruck by her and the choir at the time," Courtney said. "Dr. Steele was a powerhouse. That was my introduction to the university, and I learned more about Dr. Bethune later.

"When we could hear her voice in recordings, it penetrated deeply. It pushed me forward in times of despair, in those times when I felt less-than, because she was able to push through."

Indeed, the story of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune is one of endurance and faith. Her modest school grew quickly, and by 1931 the Methodist Church helped facilitate a merger with the Cookman Institute for boys.

Bethune-Cookman College was born.

By 2007, it had achieved university status. Even with the growth, though, it never outgrew its founder's vision.

"She fought for what she knew America could be and not what it was. Through her faith in God, she fought for that. Her last will and testament is still a great model for us to follow," Dr. David Allen said.

(l-r) Rev. Dr. David Allen, Trinity Allen. Rev. Courtney Allen--Allen family photo

That will and testament summarizes a vibrant life and gives a roadmap for future generations.

• "I leave you love. 'Love thy neighbor' is a precept which could transform the world if it were universally practiced."

• "I leave you hope."

• "I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another."

• "I leave you a thirst for education."

• "I leave you respect for the use of power."

• "I leave you faith."

• "I leave you racial dignity."

• "I leave you a desire to live harmoniously with your fellow man."

• "I leave you finally a responsibility to our young people."

• "If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving. I think I have spent my life well. I pray now that my philosophy may be helpful to those who share my vision of a world of Peace, Progress, Brotherhood, and Love."

A Fitting Recognition Of Her Impact

The push to place Dr. Bethune in Statuary Hall began after Florida lawmakers voted in 2016 to remove the Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith's statue. Both houses of the Legislature gave final approval in 2018 to use Dr. Bethune in Smith's spot, and then-Gov. Rick Scott signed the decree.

The university needed to raise about $400,000 to complete the project. As a B-CU trustee board member, Daytona
Beach businesswoman and philanthropist Nancy Lohman became a key player in making that happen.

But the trustees didn't want to stop with just a statue in faraway Washington, D.C. They wanted a second statue that would stay in Daytona Beach near the university campus.

After Comas traveled to Italy to create the original statue from the same marble quarry Michelangelo used, she was commissioned to create one in bronze for Daytona Beach. 

It will be unveiled in a ceremony on Aug. 18 in the area of Daytona Beach's Riverfront Esplanade. Her statue will stand westward, gazing toward the campus.

"One of the reasons I so gravitate to her is that she was such a bridge-builder, and despite the negativity that surrounded her at times, she persevered," Lohman said.

"Her example of being firm but kind, strong but warm, being laser-focused but accommodating, enabled her to make the impact she did."

Lohman will also be in Washington for the unveiling there. She gets goosebumps thinking about what it will be like on that day.

"I think it will be the most historic and special occasion of our lives," she said. "I consider this the most important work of my life."

Using God's gifts to accomplish "impossible" things

Racism was a fact of life in the South when young Mary McLeod launched her dreams with only the metaphorical loaves and fishes in the way of resources. But she had something more important than money; she had faith.

By keeping God at the center, she was able to turn a humble school built on a garbage dump into an institution that has educated uncounted thousands of students. The ripples of her amazing life go on and on.

"In her, I see a woman who knew it was important to be unafraid, a woman who is bold, a woman who did something unprecedented in her time period. She became a symbol of hope and possibility," Rev. Courtney Allen said.

"It can never be understated. It's not something we can ever lose sight of. Even today, women are still trying and fighting for the rights that men have. We still are pushing through the glass ceiling. It's miraculous, it's hopeful, and no law, no racist was going to stop her."

Racism still exists today, as we know all too well, but the will Mary McLeod Bethune instilled in her students to fight that in all its forms has been passed down from generation to generation.

Watch the Mary McLeod Bethune statue unveiling live on July 13, 11 a.m. at https://speaker.gov/live

View a special worship service Sunday, July 10 at 10 a.m. in honor of Dr. Bethune's 147th birthday live from Asbury UMC in Washington, D.C. available here.

So, Trinity Allen was asked, what would she ask Dr. Bethune if she could speak with her today?

She thought for a moment before answering.

"I'd ask her what can we be doing to extend her legacy and keep it going," she said. "I'd ask what aren't we doing that we should. I think she'd be protesting injustice.

"I was reading an article about a month ago, and it was about how we as African Americans achieved our ancestors' wildest dreams. I think we have."

And Dr. Bethune would be immensely proud, but she would then tell those students to keep striving, keep loving, keep the faith, and never, ever let someone tell them it can't be done.

Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org




 

Want to know more about the incredible story of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and the journey to Statuary Hall? Check out the commemorative edition of Evolve Magazine, The Pride of Florida, available in both digital and print formats. To order copies or get digital access to The Pride of Florida, go to https://simplecirc.com/subscribe/pride-of-florida


Similar Stories