Mary McLeod Bethune
    by John Cech

That's Donna Lynne Coulter, Medicine Man Ya Ya, and friends singing the opening for their tribute to the great American educator, Mary McLeod Bethune, whose birth anniversary it is this week. The song is part of a terrific CD called Teach the Children which includes musically-accompanied prose and poetry that celebrates, along with Ms. Bethune, such figures of African-American history as Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, and Grandville T. Woods.
This is an exciting project because it is continuing a very ancient tradition with our most modern mode of communication. For millenia people have been passing along what is essential about their cultural heritage to their children through poetry and music, song and chant.

There isn't a more fitting subject for such myth-making than Mary McLeod Bethune, who was born in 1875 on a cotton and rice farm in South Carolina, one of seventeen children. She was so hungry for education that she walked the four miles each way back and forth to school every day, and her determination eventually won her scholarships and lead to her becoming a teacher first in Georgia and later in Palatka, Florida, where she taught in a Presbyterian mission school that helped prisioners in the county jail. But her goal was to forge new possibilities for African-American girls, and she somehow managed to piece together a school, with home-made chairs and desks and she somehow kept it going, selling sweet potato pies to raise money. The school would become Bethune-Cookman College and it launched Ms. Bethune on a politically active career throughout her long life, a career in which she worked tirelessly for the voting rights of African Americans, openly defying the Klan to do so, a career in which she advised three presidents, and became the first woman to have a statue dedicated to her in a public park in the nation's capital. Now that's something to sing myths about.

Copyright 2002, John Cech

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."