This week’s dish was a quick and simple recipe in honor of the NCNW’s founder, Mary McLeod Bethune. One of the most powerful and accomplished African American women of the twentieth century, Bethune’s legacy is most recognizable today in Bethune-Cookman Institute in Daytona Beach, Florida but this was only one of her marks on American history. This recipe on the whole was quite successful, though, like many of the others, we ultimately modified it a bit to make it more suitable to our own tastes.
Mary McLeod Bethune was born on July 10, 1875 in Mayesville, South Carolina only a decade after the conclusion of the American Civil War and just a few years away from the adoption of the 14th and 15th Amendments (ratified in 1868 and 1870 respectively). Her parents Samuel and Patsy McLeod had been enslaved and, after emancipation, her mother continued to work on the land where they had been forced to work until she could afford to buy it herself. She had seventeen children, Mary being one of the last. In 1894 Bethune graduated from Scotia Seminary in North Carolina and then attended the Moody Bible Institute in Illinois so that she could become a missionary in Africa. Though she never received a missionary appointment, she remained committed to helping women and children in the United States and beyond.
In 1904, she started the Daytona Educational and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls, which she maintained until 1923 when it was combined with the Cookman Institute to form the first accredited four-year college for African Americans in Florida: Bethune-Cookman. Bethune served as president of the school until 1942.
Shortly after the merging of the two schools, Mary McLeod Bethune became the president of the National Association of Colored Women. The NACW was the preeminent organization for African American women in the early twentieth century. Founded in 1896, members of the NACW were middle class Black women who advocated for racial uplift through the funding of local educational institutions, aid for the elderly, literacy clubs, and the support for anti-lynching and suffrage initiatives. Bethune defeated longtime civil rights activist Ida B. Wells for the presidency in 1924 and led the organization for eight years. During that time she learned much about leading a national organization, which would be critical to her work during the 1930s.
During the Great Depression, which impacted global affairs throughout the 1930s, US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted major legislation to support Americans that were suffering from the economic collapse. Known collectively as the “New Deal,” these policies created a number of new social service programs, necessitating the creation of a new administrative apparatus to support the public. Racial discrimination and stratification still plagued the nation, so a cohort of African American leaders who worked for the federal government came together to assure that Black citizens were able to access these resources. This “Black Cabinet” (formally the Federal Council on Negro Affairs) advised first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and encouraged liberal leaders to press the president to support African American equality in his legislation. Mary McLeod Bethune was serving as the head of the Office of Minority Affairs in the National Youth Administration (NYA), which used federal funds to employ young people between 16 and 25. Bethune recognized that by bringing these different administrative leaders together, they would be able to more effectively advocate for policies that supported Black Americans including anti-lynching legislation, voting rights, and ending segregation in public accommodations.
In addition to these positions, she served as the vice president of the NAACP from 1940 until her death, represented that organization at the first meeting of the United Nations in 1945, and was the first female president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now called ASALAH). She encouraged Carter G. Woodson to establish the Negro History Bulletin which spread African American history to the general public. As a member of the advisory board that in 1942 created the Women’s Army Corps, Bethune ensured it was racially integrated.
On December 5, 1935 Bethune convened a meeting at the 137th St. Branch of the YWCA in Harlem of thirty African American women representing the prominent women’s organizations of the day. Bethune explained that the council she envisioned would recognize the efforts and problems of people in the working classes and draw on the energy of women improving their communities independently around the country. By putting energy behind them, not dictating their initiatives, the Council would both be able to advance their causes and also direct the women towards a shared political agenda. She concluded her speech with this call, saying “let us fight today with Negro womanhood in mind.”
Mary McLeod Bethune died in 1955, leaving behind a series of institutions that continued to shape American history. The recipe was submitted by “The 850,000 Membership – NCNW,” reflecting not only the founder’s impact, but the admiration shared by so many around the country. In her “Final Will and Testament,” which she published while she was still alive, Bethune wrote:
The Dish: A Birthday Toddy
This drink was very similar to the Pioneers in Education Spiced Tea. It was quick and tasty, but ultimately a little too sweet to drink as a tea. We ended up turning these into popsicles, which were better suited to this July heat!
4 cups orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
This recipe had three steps. First, combine all of the ingredients and heat to boiling. Then, simmer over low for five minutes. We should note that we did not grate the orange peel because, on a grad student salary, a microplane is a luxury.
Then, strain. Finally, pour into heated mugs and serve at once. Kayleigh’s apartment was over 80 degrees at this point, so as you will see from the picture we did not use heated mugs…
We want to reiterate how strange it was that this was a hot drink served in the middle of the summer. We suspect it would have been perfectly delightful in the fall or winter, since it had that really killer combination of citrus and cinnamon. Also, this dish was described as a “toddy” and while it did not have any alcohol in it, we could definitely see leaving some of the sugar out and adding a little whiskey.
Happy Birthday to this remarkable woman!