Dr. Bethune’s Last Will & Testament


Bethune, Mary McLeod




Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida, was born on a South Carolina farm in 1875.  The child of former slaves, she went on to become a teacher, a civil and human rights leader, and a consultant to five U.S. presidents, among them Franklin D. Roosevelt, who appointed her to his "Black Cabinet" as director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.  In her "Last Will & Testament," written shortly before her death at age 79, Bethune bequeathes her home and its contents to the educational and research foundation that she organized in 1953. She then turns to her less tangible legacy, one she hopes to leave "to Negroes everywhere."  Her "Last Will & Testament" opens up fundamental questions about what it means to live a good life, what Bethune's dream of "full equality" for African Americans might look like, and what legacy we most hope to leave behind--as individuals, families, organizations, communities--for those who follow us.

Full Text*

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Faith and BeliefLeadership and ResponsibilityLove and CompassionRace, Ethnicity and CultureServing and VolunteeringSocial and Political ChangeWork and Vocation

Big Questions

What is the relationship between faith and service, justice and/or poverty?How does a person become a leader?How do we define love? How do we show love?How does my race, culture or ethnicity shape who I am?How does race affect our relations to others?What assumptions do we make about people from different races, ethnicities and cultures?Why do racial disparities exist and how do we change them?Do acts of service lead to social change?Is my service effective? How do I know?Can one person change the world?What do I hope my work accomplishes?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. In your own words, how would you describe Dr. Bethune's legacy?
  2. What are the qualities of a great leader, in her view? What word or image first comes to mind for you when you think of a great leader?
  3. What do you think Bethune means when she says "We must make an effort to be less race conscious and more conscious of individual and human values"? To whom is she speaking here? Do you agree?
  4. What do you think she means by saying, "The problem of color is worldwide"?
  5. How does Bethune advise African Americans to coexist with the white majority surrounding them? In her place, would your advice be similar or different?
  6. What would Mary McLeod Bethune think of the state of race relations in the U.S. today?
  7. Near the end of the piece, Bethune describes her legacy as "my philosophy of living and serving." Do you have such a philosophy yourself? If you had to describe it in a sentence or two, what would you say?
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