We have President Franklin Roosevelt to thank, albeit indirectly, for the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, a National Historic Site since 1982. In 1935 he invited Bethune, an African American educator and activist, to become a special adviser on minority affairs in Washington. Although she never considered Washington her home, she spent so much time here she bought the Victorian town house in Logan Circle that is now both a tribute to her and a collection of archives documenting black women's history.
Upon entering the Bethune Museum and Archives, request to see the half-hour video that chronicles her amazing life. Born in 1875, the 15th of 17 children of former slaves, Bethune, ironically, was denied the opportunity to become a missionary in Africa because of racial discrimination. She opted to become a teacher, and in 1904 founded a girls school that evolved into today's Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla. Her national influence as an advocate for the rights of women and African Americans would escalate in the 1930s as the school she founded also grew.
Plan to spend another half-hour in the two levels of the house that are open to the public. On the entry level, a red-carpeted living room is accented by a crystal chandelier and a reproduction of the baby grand piano Bethune used to play. It makes an elegant setting for the black-and-white photographs depicting members of the National Council of Negro Women, an umbrella group for black women's organizations that Bethune founded in 1935. The NCNW was headquartered here from 1943 to 1966.
Up the carved wooden staircase, visit Bethune's bedroom and two others, where more pictures and antique furniture, some hers, some re-creations, capture details of her life, organization and commitment to her community and country.
-- Lori Robinson
The child of former slaves, South Carolina's Mary McLeod Bethune lived a remarkable life: tireless educator, president of the National Council of Negro Women, friend
of Eleanor Roosevelt, advisor to four presidents. Her Logan Circle townhouse includes historic photos, period furnishings and explanatory wall text. Kids may squirm during the hour-long guided tours (on the hour, last tour at 3, and including a 30-minute video). Instead of a tour, walk around at your own pace or talk with the park rangers
(especially the indefatigable Mary Perry, whose daughter married into the Bethune family).
They bring Mary McLeod Bethune to life, pointing out, for example, that Bethune was able to pick 100 pounds of cotton a day -- when she was 7. There's also a nice bookstore
with kid-appropriate biographies of Bethune and others, including Rosa Parks, Marian Anderson and Oprah Winfrey.
-- John Kelly and Craig Stoltz