Cover image for Mary McLeod Bethune & Black women's political activism
Mary McLeod Bethune & Black women's political activism
Hanson, Joyce Ann.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Columbia : University of Missouri Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xi, 248 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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E185.97.B34 H36 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
E185.97.B34 H36 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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 seeks to remedy the misconceptions surrounding this important political figure. Joyce A. Hanson 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 with the changing political realities of the twentieth century. She used 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--in her efforts to achieve equality.
Hanson uses a wide range of never- or little-used primary sources and adds a significant dimension to the historical discussion of black women's organizations by such scholars as Elsa Barkley Brown, Sharon Harley, and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn. The book extends the current debate about black women's political activism in recent work by Stephanie Shaw, Evelyn Brooks-Higginbotham, and Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore.
Examining the historical evolution of African American women's activism in the critical period between 1920 and 1950, a time previously characterized as "doldrums" for both feminist and civil rights activity, Mary McLeod Bethune and Black Women's Political Activism is important for understanding the centrality of black women to the political fight for social, economic, and racial justice.

Author Notes

Joyce A. Hanson is Professor of History at California State University in San Bernardino.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

While most African American women in the Civil Rights Movement worked for racial rather than gender equality, Mary McLeod Bethune had been seeking both for some time. Convinced that women had a higher moral capacity, she struggled assiduously through educational agencies, governmental positions, and women's organizations to achieve racial uplift and expanded women's roles. She recognized early on that one needed to primarily change social, economic, and political institutions rather than individuals. Greatly influenced by a strong mother, grandmother, and biblical women, she overcame her modest station in life to become president of Bethune-Cookman University, Director of Minority Affairs in the National Youth Administration, and president of the National Council of Negro Women. In each role she fostered racial improvements, and as a "womanist" she pushed for greater opportunities for women. Although she could be authoritarian and sometimes vain, she succeeded in advancing her agenda to the limits society set for blacks and women in her times. She expressed both a practical approach to public affairs and a power tactic within the system, and helped improve African American life and democracy in the US. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All levels/collections. L. H. Grothaus emeritus, Concordia University

Table of Contents

- Acknowledgments -p. ix
Abbreviationsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
1 The Making of a Race Womanp. 11
2 Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girlsp. 56
3 Mutual Aid, Self-Improvement, and Social Justicep. 91
4 In the National Youth Administrationp. 120
5 The National Council of Negro Womenp. 164
Conclusionp. 206
Bibliographyp. 215
Indexp. 239