Book Review on Mary McLeod Bethune and Black Women’s Political Activism

Author’s Thesis

Mary McLeod Bethune was a black female political activist who contributed significantly to the development of American politics. Mary Bethune can be described as one of the best female politicians of her time. She organized African-American women to fight for the restructuring of the American political economy and the creation of a liberal black political power base. The author, Joyce A. Hanson, portrays Mary Bethune as a towering political activist who dedicated her life to the empowerment of the African-American community. She distinguishes Bethune from other prominent African-American leaders of the time by her incorporation of the struggle for gender equality in the mainstream agitation for black equality. Bethune was an admirer of Booker T. Washington. However, she did not completely buy into Washington’s ideology of promotion of industrial education over liberal education (Hanson182). Her philosophy was based on the balance between industrial education and liberal education advanced by W.E.B. Dubois.


The author argues that Bethune’s political philosophy was largely influenced by her life and missionary education. The author explains that through her missionary education, Bethune learned the principle of socially responsible individualism, which underpinned her quest for academic achievement, personal development, and struggle for racial equality. The author also argues that Bethune’s agitation for the education of the African-American woman was based on the fact that organization for economic emancipation or self-determination could only be achieved by well-trained individuals who could organize the masses.

She argues that Bethune’s life offers a highlight of the evolution of a unique generation of African-American women activists who provided an alternative to the highly individualistic success ethic that dominates America. Moreover, they provided a platform and prepared African-American women of that generation to work collectively to create institutions that promoted equality of African-Americans and safeguarded their needs (Hanson 168). The author adds that Bethune is important as her work, and those of her contemporaries led to the creation of educational and political institutions that aimed at protracting the existence of African-American women’s political power.

The author argues that Bethune used her position as a government appointee to help in the African-American struggle for racial equality. Through her mobilization of women to vote to instigate systematic changes, she aimed at solving the race question in America. Besides, she encouraged block voting and the creation of lobby groups to pressurize the government to act on ending racial discrimination. Bethune also used her position as a director of Minority Affairs of the National Youth Administration to make the NYA give African-Americans their fair share of opportunities.


The author uses several sources in her research for the book. The majority of the sources are Mary Bethune’s papers, papers from the National Association of Colored Women. Moreover, there are sources from various renowned authors such as James Anderson’s The Education of Blacks in the South, W. E. B. Dubois’s, The Souls of Black Folk, and V.P. Franklin’s Black Self Determination, among others.


The author achieves her point of trying to portray Mary Bethune as one of the best female political activists of her day. The author goes into the details and lays bare the philosophy, intricate workings, and the conventional political climate in which Bethune was involved. Besides, the book delves into the current debate concerning the place and role of black women in mainstream politics.





Work Cited

Hanson, Joyce Ann. Mary McLeod Bethune & Black Women’s Political Activism. University of Missouri Press, 2018.