Professor Explores Faith Life of Mary McLeod Bethune, Calls her a ‘Profound Religious Thinker’

A photo of Mary McLeod Bethune at her desk. (News-Journal / file)
A photo of Mary McLeod Bethune at her desk. (News-Journal / file)

It is an ordinary desk. Well-used, a little battered, crowded with ordinary objects once belonging to Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune. Yet, it was a holy place, that desk, says Dr. Yahya Jongintaba, professor of Religion and Humanities at Bethune-Cookman University.

He will present the story of a lesser-known Bethune Wednesday night at Frist Presbyterian Church ─ a religious side of her that many may not be familiar with. His talk is one in a series of events being planned this year to celebrate the church’s 95th anniversary.

“Many people know of Bethune’s activism, her efforts on behalf of equality and education, but she is not as well known as a religious thinker,” said Jongintaba. “She was a deeply religious thinker and writer.”

Jongintaba, who is writing a biography of Bethune, has pored through her papers, her files and books on shelves at her eponymous foundation, once her home, on the B-CU campus. Most interesting of all, he said, what she underlined in those books.

Born in 1875, on a farm near Mayesville, South Carolina, Bethune was the 15th child of former slaves, and was the first in her family to go to school, at the age of 10 in a one-room school of the Trinity Presbyterian Mission. On the farm, she worked alongside her parents, but would later recall that learning to read had opened up the whole world to her, as she would later open it to others.

Jongintaba said that “her plans for the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation were very spiritual. That was her intention for the place.”

He calls her “one of the first really distinguished and prolific religious thinkers of the 20th Century among African-Americans,” adding: “Usually Howard Thurman is given that distinction, but Mary McLeod Bethune was 25 years older. She influenced Howard Thurman, which he acknowledged in his eulogy to her, and in his autobiography.”

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SOURCE: Eleanore Osborne
The Daytona Beach News-Journal