The purpose of this study was to explore and analyze the leadership of Mary McLeod Bethune by identifying the significant factors propelling her to lead and discovering the skills and practices demonstrated in her roles as an education, social justice and political leader, and activist. Though many works exist about the life of Bethune, this particular investigation analyzes specifically her leadership, learning, and service as she sought to advance racial equality and social justice, while also promoting interracial collaboration.
Born in 1875, Bethune's accomplishments included the founding of the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1904, presently Bethune-Cookman University, and the founding of the National Council of Negro Women in Washington, DC in 1935. She was America's first black female presidential appointee under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration beginning in 1936, and the only black female consultant serving in the development of the United Nations Charter in 1945.
Newspapers, periodicals, historical landmarks, primary and secondary documents recognizing her work were examined, along with interviews of those Mary McLeod Bethune inspired directly and indirectly, to note the reasons for her noteworthy legacy. The essence of Bethune's leadership, learning, and service was found in her clarity of purpose, ability to inspire, individual and collective capacity-building, courage, use of power. A legacy of her work continues to be acknowledged to the present day. Her ability to transcend poverty, illiteracy, race, and gender, and rise to national and international prominence was founded in her passion and determination to advance racial equality and social justice through her roles as an education, social justice, and political leader, and activist.
The findings of this study provide a framework of leadership, learning, and service for leaders seeking equitable social change in educational and political systems. Leaders are able to examine the motivation, performance, sustainability, and legacy of their leadership and the role learning and service play in their work.