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Mary McLeod Bethune Quotes From the Powerful Civil Rights Leader and Educator

Daughter of former slaves, an educator, businesswoman, and advisor to the president, Mary McLeod Bethune was a powerful civil rights leader during the 20th century. Here is our list of 50 Mary McLeod Bethune quotes.

Born in South Carolina in 1875, Bethune was one of seventeen children. She grew up on her family’s cotton farm until she attended boarding school in North Carolina.

A Painting of Mary McLeod Bethune

Bethune aspired to be a missionary but was unable to find sponsorship. So, instead, she did what she considered the next best thing, she became a teacher.

Bethune opened an all-girls boarding school in Florida that eventually merged with an all-boys school and became a college that began issuing degrees in 1943.

Throughout her life, Bethune was an activist for change. She founded many organizations that championed racial and gender equality.

In 1936, under the President Roosevelt administration, she was named director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Association, a title that made her the highest-ranking African American woman in government.

Bethune spent her life advocating for equality. We hope these Mary McLeod Bethune quotes inspire you to do the same.

Don’t forget to also check out these Coretta Scott King quotes inspiring you to fight for equality.

Mary McLeod Bethune quotes about service

1. “Though I hadn’t a penny left, I considered cash money as the smallest part of my resources. I had faith in a living God, faith in myself, and a desire to serve.” – Mary McLeod Bethune

2. “Faith is the first factor in a life devoted to service. Without it, nothing is possible. With it, nothing is impossible.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

3. “I do feel, in my dreamings and yearnings, so undiscovered by those who are able to help me.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

4. “The progress of the world will call for the best that all of us have to give.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

5. “I leave you love. I leave you hope. I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. I leave you respect for the use of power. I leave you faith. I leave you racial dignity.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

6. “To those of you with your years of service still ahead, the challenge is yours. Stop doubting yourselves. Have the courage to make up your minds and hold your decisions. Refuse to be BOUGHT for a nickel, or a million dollars, or a job!” — Mary McLeod Bethune

7. “Enter to learn; depart to serve.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune quotes on education

8. “Knowledge is the prime need of the hour.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

9. “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

10. “Education is the great American adventure, the world’s most colossal democratic experiment.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

11. “From the first, I made my learning, what little it was, useful every way I could.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

12. “We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

13. “Our children must never lose their zeal for building a better world.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

14. “There is a place in God’s sun for the youth “farthest down” who has the vision, the determination, and the courage to reach it.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

15. “I thought, maybe the difference between white folks and colored is just this matter of reading and writing. I made up my mind I would know my letters.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

16. “Invest in the human soul. Who knows, it might be a diamond in the rough.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

17. “Studying goes deeper than mere reading. There are surface nuggets to be gathered but the best of the gold is underneath, and it takes time and labor to secure it.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune quotes about women

18. “Next to God we are indebted to women, first for life itself, and then for making it worth living.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

19. “The true worth of a race must be measured by the character of its womanhood.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

20. “A woman is free if she lives by her own standards and creates her own destiny if she prizes her individuality and puts no boundaries on her hopes for tomorrow.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

21. “Whatever glory belongs to the race for a development unprecedented in history for the given length of time, a full share belongs to the womanhood of the race.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

22. “For I am my mother’s daughter.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune quotes on equality

23. “Whatever the white man has done, we have done, and often better.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

24. “The drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

25. “If we accept and acquiesce in the face of discrimination, we accept the responsibility ourselves.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

26. “We should, therefore, protest openly everything … that smacks of discrimination or slander.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

27. “If we have the courage and tenacity of our forebears, who stood firmly like a rock against the lash of slavery, we shall find a way to do for our day what they did for theirs.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

28. “World peace and brotherhood are based on a common understanding of the contributions and cultures of all races and creeds.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

29. “You white folks have long been eating the white meat of the chicken. We Negroes are now ready for some of the white meat instead of the dark meat.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

30. “What does the Negro want? His answer is very simple. He wants only what all other Americans want. He wants opportunity to make real what the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights say, what the Four Freedoms establish. While he knows these ideals are open to no man completely, he wants only his equal chance to obtain them.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

More Inspiring Mary McLeod Bethune quotes

31. “Cease to be a drudge, seek to be an artist.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

32. “Forgiving is not about forgetting, it’s letting go of the hurt.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

33. “Believe in yourself, learn, and never stop wanting to build a better world.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

34. “I plunged into the job of creating something from nothing.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

35. “I have had more than half a century of such happiness. A great deal of worry and sorrow, too, but never a worry or a sorrow that was not offset by a purple iris, a lark, a bluebird, or a dewy morning glory.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

36. “We live in a world which respects power above all things.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

37. “Power, intelligently directed, can lead to more freedom. Unwisely directed, it can be a dreadful, destructive force.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

38. “In each experience of my life, I have had to step out of one little space of the known light, into a large area of darkness. I had to stand awhile in the darkness, and then gradually God has given me light. But not to linger in. For as soon as that light has felt familiar, then the call has always come to step out ahead again into new darkness.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

39. “I never stop to plan. I take things step-by-step.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

40. “Greatness is largely a social accident, and almost always socially supported.” — Mary McLeod Bethune

What did you learn from these Mary McLeod Bethune quotes?

Mary McLeod Bethune was a woman who succeeded in many areas in a time when all odds were against her.

Born just 10 years after the end of the Civil War and 12 years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, racism was very much alive and well in America, making success for a woman of color a lot more difficult than her white counterparts.

Still, despite the challenges she faced along the way, Bethune would not only die as a successful businesswoman but as someone who made a significant positive impact on the world.

Her college changed the lives of countless children and her efforts in the civil rights and women’s movements would create change for future generations to come.

Did you enjoy reading these Mary McLeod Bethune quotes and sayings? Which quote was your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

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