Mary McLeod Bethune

"A Philosophy of Education for Negro Girls" - 1920

Mary McLeod Bethune
January 01, 1920
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For the past seventy years the Negro has experienced various degrees of freedom. That which was given him in the early years of emancipation was more genuine and perhaps more benign that than which today he must take. For today he must free himself by reason of his ability and by merit, and by whatever trust and confidence may be found in himself.

A great deal of this new freedom rests upon the type of education which the Negro woman will receive. Early emancipation did not concern itself with giving advantages to Negro girls. The domestic realm was her field and no one sought to remove her. Even here, she was not given special training for her tasks. Only those with extraordinary talents were able to break the shackles of bondage. Phyllis Wheatley is to be remembered as an outstanding example of this ability — for through her talents one was able to free herself from house hold cares that devolved upon Negro women and make a contribution in literary art which is never to be forgotten. The years still re-echo her words.

“Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain May be refined, and join the Angelic train”

Very early in my life, I saw the vision of what our women might contribute to the growth and development of the race, — if they were given a certain type of intellectual training. I longed to see women, — Negro women, hold in their hands, diplomas which bespoke achievement; I longed to see them trained to be inspirational wives and mothers; I longed to see their accomplishments recognized side by side with any woman, anywhere. With this visition before me, my life has been spent.

Has the Negro girl proved herself worthy of the intellectual advantages which have been given her? What is your answer when I tell you that Negro women stand at the helm of outstanding enterprises; such are: Nannie Borroughs — Charlotte Hawkins Brown; they are proprietors of business — we recall Madam Walker and Annie Malone; they are doing excellent work in the field of Medicine, Literary Art, Painting and Music. Of that large group let us mention Mary Church Terrell and Jessie Fauset; Hazel Harrison, Caterina Jarbors and Marian Anderson as beacon lights. One very outstanding woman is a banner. Others are leaders in Politics.

In the rank of average training we witness strivings of Negro women in the school rooms of counties and cities pouring out their own ambition to see them achieved in the lives of the next generation. The educated Negro girl has lifted the standard of the Negro home so that the present generation is better born and therefore has the promise of a better future.

If there is to be any distinctive difference between the education of the Negro girl and the Negro boy, it should be that of consideration for the unique responsibility of this girl in the world today. The challenge to the Negro home is one which dares the Negro to develop initiative to solve his own problem, to work out his own problems, to work out his difficulties in a superior fashion, and to finally come into his right as an American Citizen, because he is tolerated. This is the moral responsibility of the education of the Negro girl; It must become a part of her thinking; her activities must lead her into such endeavors early in her educational life; this training must be inculcated into the school curricula so that the result may be a natural expression — born into her children. Such is the natural endowment which her education must make it possible for her to bequeath to the future of the Negro race.

The education of the Negro girl must embrace a larger appreciation for good citizenship in the home. Our girls must be taught cleanliness, beauty and thoughtfulness and their application in making home life possible. For proper home life provides the proper atmosphere for life everywhere else. The ideas of home must not forever be talked about; they must be living factors built into the everyday educational experiences of our girls.

Negro girls must receive also a peculiar appreciation for the expression of the creative self. They must be taught to realize their responsibility to find ways whereby the home and the schoolroom may encourage our youth to be creative; to develop to the fullest extent the inner urges that make them distinctive and that will lead them to be worthy contributors to the life of the little worlds in which they will live. This in itself will do more to remove the walls of inter-racial prejudice and build up intra-racial confidence and pride than many of our educational tools and devices. This is the Gibraltar that we need. Lest it be sunken in the sea of carelessness and improper emphasis, let us, quickly, set it upon the tableland. Let us stress this standard of conduct and individual creative nurture in the education of our girls.

The spiritual reactions are sure to harmonize when we safeguard this phase of our education.

Negro women have always known struggle. This heritage is just as much to be desired as any other. Our girls should be taught to appreciate it and welcome it.

“Let mine be a hearty soul that wins By mettle and fairness and pluck A heart with the freedom of soaring winds That never depends on luck!”

This characteristic should be sought in that ardent way. Every Negro girl should pray for that pioneering spirit. Let her arithmetic, history, economics and what not, be taught with the zeal of struggle; the determination to win by mettle and fairness and luck. For such she leaves the school life and enters the Life’s school.

“God give us girls — the time demands Strong girls, good girls, true girls with willing hands; Girls whom the world’s gold cannot buy, Girls who possess opinions and a will; Girls who honor and will not lie Girls who can stand before the motley crowd And down its treacherous flatteries without winking Tall girls, sun-crowned Girls whose voices cry aloud And give us a challenge to the whole world’s thinking

Mary McLeod Bethune Papers, Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, Box 2, Folder 13.