Philosopher Analysis: Mary McLeod Bethune


Social problems such as segregation and discrimination have been reviewed by innumerous scholars and this information remains a vital tool of keeping these events rooted in the minds of historical scholars. Mary McLeod Bethune, a notable black philosopher, played a key role in advocating for African-American societies despite the numerous criticism she faced and endured. Bethune’s philosophy of Christian education helped black communities become more enlightened and self-aware to the point that they began fighting for their civil rights. Bethune worked collaboratively with community members as well as other influential leaders to advocate for equality through education and Christianity. In turn, social justice has enabled African-American communities to thrive progressively over the years.

Keywords: Mary McLeod Bethune, Christian education, progressive education, equity

Philosopher Analysis: Mary McLeod Bethune

Education is a fundamental aspect for every community as it promotes personal and societal growth. Human beings are social creatures hence they need each other to be prosperous in their endeavors. It is important o note that minority groups, primarily African-Americans, lacked access to educational resources as they were deemed inferior. Following Bowman, Comer, and Johns (2018), black students should be encouraged to pursue educational prowess despite the numerous social obstacles that may hinder their intellect progression. Mary McLeod Bethune was a vital advocator for promoting equality and harmony among diverse groups and her contributions and philosophy still play a significant part in the modern body of knowledge concerning Christian education. Bethune’s work was to promote social transformation in the United States and this meant the recognition and inclusion of African-American women in educational matters. She used her influence and resilience to empower African-American women spiritually, emotionally, and morally. This in turn helped many to become self-aware and highly motivated to lead a satisfactory lifestyle. As profoundly highlighted in his paper, Mary’s philosophy of Christian education influenced her fight for recognition and inclusivity of colored communities in the education field.

Background and Cultural Context

Social justice is significant for any community to prosper both economy and political-wise. People of color were neglected and left out in numerous national activities and privileges. Political reforms over the decades have helped these minority groups be knowledgeable and gain access to these essential resources. Bethune was born in a family of seventeen children, her being the fifteenth child, in 1875 (Woodley, 2017). Her parents were freed slaves who lived in Mayesville, Sumter County, South Carolina, but still worked for their previous masters to fend for themselves and the family.

As aforementioned, African-Americans did not have access to the economic and educational advantages that their white counterparts had. This in turn inspired them to focus entirely on religious education. The context of God gave these communities the hope they needed to make a difference in their lives. It was this cultural aspect that made Bethune more inclined with spiritual teachings and the relevance of self-worth. Most importantly, she developed the need for advocating for equality and helping more colored individuals become more self-aware and enlightened.

Philosophy of Education

The passion to help others understand Christianity grew as Bethune grew older and more confident. According to extensive research, she developed a sense of divine destiny that motivated her to pursue missionary endeavors. Her philosophy mainly floundered around training individuals primarily girls and women to become spiritual, moral, industrious, and intelligent. These initiatives helped women develop the most workable attitude that is needed for them to attain self-actualization.

It is crucial to note that black women were the most inferior during the progressive era and the few women leaders had a difficult time maintaining their authority and influence. Nonetheless, Bethune worked collaboratively with black community members and spearheaded the mushrooming of Christian learning institutions. These institutions influenced social and spiritual transformation as students were immersed fully into the Christian faith. According to Wozolek (2018), Bethune partnered with other influential scholars such as Cater Woodson and Julia Cooper to express their views regarding the lack of inclusivity of persons of color in the education sector. Her core objective was to defuse the dehumanizing of African-American individuals in the system and her philosophy played a key role in influencing positive reforms in the education system in the years that followed.

Theory to Practice

Bethune’s popularity reached its peak after she began building learning institutions that entirely embraced progressivism. Per Maranto and Wai (2020), progressive learning was influenced mainly by the rise of modernization. Here, scholars were introduced to experimental learning which helped enhance the experience of students progressively. Bethune’s schools took a key interest in all society’s changing needs. Moreover, the community provided the schools with the needed support to attract desirable outcomes. Progressive learning was influenced in the US to promote social justice and equity (Gross & Rutland, 2017). Therefore, these educational platforms organized by Bethune was essential in offering black communities equal chances to learn critical employable skills. Progressive education also inspired more education reforms that opened numerous learning opportunities for the affected minority groups.

Perspectives on Diversity

Cultural diversity was the key factor that attracted racial disparities between whites and blacks. However, reforms in education paved way for the development of intergroup and intercultural education to promote a diversified environment. It is fundamental to note that diversity is an important factor that attracts the creation and maintenance of relations between different ethnic groups. These intercultural developments were significant in encouraging the diverse community members to be more democratic in including African-Americans in learning institutions. According to research, educational reforms that took place around the 1940s were implemented to address the issue of discrimination (Johnson & Pak, 2019). Schools were taught extensively about the American culture, history, music and art to support democratic citizenship and improve personal interrelationships among scholars.

Mary relied on her high profile and influence to advocate for intergroup education in the highly segregated South. Furthermore, she worked with other leaders to ensure fair and equal employment opportunities are provided for all members of the community. Her contribution to the employment sector gave African-Americans hope to seek education and gain a chance to thrive in their career endeavors.

Critical Analysis

Bethune’s philosophy of Christian education floundered around the blending of Christian ideals with democracy. Crucially, the philosophy emphasized entirely on the need for social reconstruction and redemption. All these efforts were purposeful to improve the education sector and foster ethnic diversity in learning institutions. Bethune had the discipline and leadership skills to inspire African-American communities to embrace education and better their livelihood. Progressive learning model was consequential in molding individual talents of learners as the exposure sharpened their skill set and provided them with the knowledge they solely required to compete favorably in the job market. For example, Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute, one of the earliest schools opened by Bethune, focused primarily on teaching scholars practical as well as employable skills such as sewing, cooking, and broom making just to mention but a few (Muhammad, Dunmeyer, Starks, & Sealey-Ruiz, 2020). Her experiential model of teaching was pivotal in giving her students the exposure they required to develop their independent workshops and businesses and this in turn enhanced the living standards and wellbeing of individuals across the state.

It is crucial to note the active role played by Bethune in improving the quality of life of black individuals. During the progressive era, African-Americans did not have equal access to healthcare facilities and this affected their overall mortality rate. Bethune started nursing schools to teach potential caregivers the basics of pharmacy and medicine. In turn, African-American communities became more aware and motivated to fight for their civil rights. The Christian education philosophy was educative in aligning an individual with the passion of Christ. Here, students managed to gradually move and live beyond the degrading and oppression, towards economic, spiritual, as well as political liberty. Most importantly, it is crucial to note that some criticized her work due to her gender and race. A notable initiative that was criticized revolved around her quest of influencing a coalition organization whose main purpose was to advocate for the advancement of African-Americans. Nonetheless, she managed to elbow through this criticism and come out victorious in the chase for black inclusivity in the federal system.

Implications and Conclusions

Bethune’s immense contribution to education reforms paved way for Christian brotherhood, interracial cooperation, and racial unity which played a significant role in fostering a sense of togetherness and harmoniousness. Bethune lived her life fighting for the rights of the oppressed and her philosophy was adopted by other scholars that came after her. Today, intergroup education has been adopted to accommodate students from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. Contemporary institutions focus more on promoting love, quality education, and racial dignity. Students get to share educational resources fairly and this has gradually enhanced relations between different groups. Moreover, the contributions of Bethune has helped contemporary black scholars to seek career developmental resources without fear of being declined. In turn, this has increased the rate by which African-American fellows are recognized or rather promoted in work institutions.


Bowman, B.T., Comer, J.P., & Johns, D.J. (2018). Addressing the African American Achievement Gap: Three Leading Educators Issue a Call to Action. Retrieved from

Gross, Z., & Rutland, S. D. (2017). Experiential Learning in Informal Educational Settings. Retrieved from

Johnson, L. D., & Pak, Y. K. (2019). Teaching for diversity: Intercultural and intergroup education in the public schools, 1920s to 1970s. Review of Research in Education, 43(1), 1-31.

Maranto, R., & Wai, J. (2020). Why intelligence is missing from American education policy and practice, and what can be done about it. Journal of Intelligence, 8(1), 2.

Muhammad, G. E., Dunmeyer, A., Starks, F. D., & Sealey-Ruiz, Y. (2020). Historical voices for contemporary times: Learning from black women educational theorists to redesign teaching and teacher education. Theory into Practice, 59(4), 419-428.

Woodley, J. (2017). “Ma is in the park”: Memory, identity, and the Bethune memorial. Journal of American Studies. Retrieved from

Wozolek, B. (2018). The mothership connection: Utopian funk from Bethune and beyond. The Urban Review, 50(5), 836-856.

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