Mary McLeod Bethune Council House NHS: Imbued with a legacy of service
By Audrey Peterman
Welcome to Day # 121 of our “365 Parks in 365 Days” adventure!
Today we’re off on a glorious expedition to the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site in Washington, DC. I have been in awe of the redoubtable Mrs. Bethune ever since I learned many years ago of how she founded a school with her life savings of $1.50 that thrives today as Bethune Cookman University, with an enrollment of more than 3000 students.
Wow! With a role model like her, failure is not an option for me, or for anyone with a sound mind. The Council House was the first headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) and was Mrs. Bethune’s last home in Washington, D.C. I haven’t visited this site yet, and I plan to rectify that when I am in DC June 20-22 to speak at several units of the park system.
The challenge I’m finding in writing about Mrs. Bethune’s life is what to include and what to leave out, since her accomplishments are so numerous and span such a broad spectrum. But this salient statement ringing across time encapsulates her focus and activities:
“I leave you a thirst for education. Knowledge is the prime need of the hour. . . If I have a legacy to leave my people, it is my philosophy of living and serving.”
Born just a decade after the end of the Civil War to parents who had been enslaved, Mrs. Bethune rose to become an advisor to FOUR US Presidents. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spent the night at her home – twice! An international human rights advocate, and delegate, she founded the National Council of Negro Women and was a leading light in multiple other human and civil rights organizations, a prolific author and businesswoman.
I derived much of her story from Biography.com and took the liberty of inserting “Mrs.” before her name as a mark of respect.