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Meeting the Most Famous Black Woman in the World

Black Women in History

Meeting the Most Famous Black Woman in the World


Mary McLeod Bethune founded a college, defied the Klan, advised presidents, and like my grandmother, was a fierce warrior for justice.

orn in 1914, Dovey Johnson Roundtree was subject to the double barriers of institutionalized racism and sexism, but rose from poverty to become a distinguished champion of civil and women’s rights. As a member of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during WWII, she helped desegregate the US military. She went on to become a crusading lawyer, winning a landmark bus desegregation case in 1955. As a minster in the 1960s, she was in the vanguard of women ordained as leaders in the AME church.

In her memoir, Mighty Justice: My Life in Civil Rights, Roundtree describes how the support of community, mentors, and family nurtured her career. In this excerpt, Roundtree encounters a friend of her grandmother’s, the inspiring Mary McLeod Bethune.

In the 1920s, the most famous Black woman in America, if not the world, was Mary McLeod Bethune—educator, activist, and consultant to President Coolidge. That such a woman should have called upon my grandmother, should have huddled with her in close conference upon the broken-down sofa at our house …

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I am a future butterfly at the stage of growth when I am turning into an adult. I am enclosed in a hard case shell formed by love, family, and friends. It is the hardest stage of becoming a black butterfly. You will encounter many hardships only to come out stronger and better than what you went in. At this stage, you are finding out who you truly are and how to love yourself.

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