Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial - Washington DC
Mary McLeod Bethune was a major figure in the New Deal and one of the highest placed African Americans in American government up to that time. She served as director of the National Youth Administration’s Division of Negro Affairs and was part of President Roosevelt’s informal advisory group, the “Black Cabinet.” In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women, a non-profit organization that still operates today (see the Living New Deal’s full biography, “Mary McLeod Bethune (1873-1955)”). Bethune passed away in 1955.
The Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial was created by Boston artist Robert Berks. It was paid for with $400,000 in private donations to the National Council of Negro Women (Orlando Sentinel, 1974). The memorial was placed on the western end of Lincoln Park in 1974 and stands opposite a statue of Abraham Lincoln and a freed slave.
The National Park Service notes: “The statue features an elderly Mrs. Bethune handing a copy of her legacy to two young black children. Mrs. Bethune is supporting herself by a cane given to her by President Roosevelt. The statue was unveiled on the anniversary of her 99th birthday, July 10, 1974, before a crowd of over 18,000.” (It’s alternatively reported that Eleanor Roosevelt was actually the one who gave Bethune the cane, after FDR died.)
The Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial was the “first memorial to a black or woman in a public park in the nation’s capital” (Associated Press, 1974). During the unveiling ceremony, actress Cicely Tyson read from the last will and testament of Bethune, which included: “I leave you hope… I leave you a respect for the use of power… It has always been my first concern that this power be placed on the side of human justice. We must select leaders who are wise and… of great moral stature…” (Orlando Sentinel, 1974).
The Bethune Memorial was not created during the New Deal but is of significance to New Deal history and memory.
“Statue Dedicated… Bethune Memory Stands Tall,” Orlando Sentinel, July 11, 1974.
“Lincoln Park,” National Park Service (accessed January 26, 2020).
“Statue Honoring Mary McLeod Bethune Unveiled,” Associated Press, in News-Press (Fort Myers, Florida), July 11, 1974, p. 8-B.
“Our History,” National Council of Negro Women (accessed January 26, 2020).
Project originally submitted by Brent McKee on February 24, 2020.
Additional contributions by Richard Walker.
We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.SUBMIT MORE INFORMATION OR PHOTOGRAPHS FOR THIS SITE