Statue of Mary McLeod Bethune to be Installed in National Statuary Hall

Mary McLeod Bethune walked into the White House, carrying an urgent message about the plight of Black Americans. The year was 1943, and the country was roiling with racism, segregation, Jim Crow laws and terror lynchings. Bethune, the only woman in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet,” a council of African American presidential advisers, had demanded a meeting with the president.

Bethune was widely considered a shrewd political organizer and an architect of the early civil rights movement. She was a Black woman with power, with access to the White House, when few Black people were allowed in.

She was often greeted on her White House visits by her friend, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who would embrace Bethune warmly at the White House gate. The two women would walk arm in arm down the circular drive, into the White House, past the hostile stares of White Southerners, many of whom made up the White House staff. Inside, Bethune would talk privately with the president about “the problems of my people.”

“I discussed with him the problems of my people in many an off-the-record private talk held in the President’s study in the White House,” Bethune wrote in an article titled “My Secret Talks With FDR,” which was published in 1949 in Ebony magazine. “I often expressed to him my impatience with the slowness of the democratic process.”

She recalled visiting Roosevelt one evening in 1943. “I was feeling particularly distressed that day over reports I had received on flagrant bias shown against Negroes seeking to enter the National Youth Administration in certain parts of the South,” Bethune wrote. “I called him direct that afternoon, and must have sounded awfully agitated.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, DeNeen L. Brown

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