Washington Shores pastor honors Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune
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Her eldest living granddaughter, Dr. Evelyn Bethune, says her grandmother was a “game changer”, who was way ahead of her time.
Dr. Mary McLeod has leveraged political connections to lobby and advocate, “not just for black people, but poor white people” struggling to find a place to live.
“Because of my grandmother’s status, everyone wanted her involved in everything they did,” said Dr Evelyn Bethune. “She did things from the grassroots and understanding the power of building relationships.”
In 1948, one of these projects – Washington Shores – was presented as a “solution to [the] Black housing problem,” according to an archival document unearthed by Dr. Clarissa West-White, a reference librarian at Bethune-Cookman University. The new community, off Orange Center Blvd. in Orlando, was to be replicated across the country as a model for cities to follow.
Other documents obtained by the University of Daytona Beach, also from 1948, detail fierce correspondence between the community itself and the Orlando Negro Chamber of Commerce, addressed to Dr. Bethune.
West-White says that while it’s unclear if Dr. Bethune actually met with key organizers of the Orlando development, she was certainly well aware of the project, which included government guarantees on black homeowners’ mortgages. .
Decades later, the historically black community of Washington Shores remains a source of pride for the beautiful city.
“It’s a love for my community and a sense of worth,” said Reverend Harry Rucker, who bought his home there in 1975. “I feel comfortable living in my own community, in especially where I grew up.”
The 132-year-old pastor of First Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, Inc. in Sanford, Rucker lives on Bethune Drive, a few blocks from two statues honoring the first black police officers to serve the city of Orlando.
“When you come and see a statue of these two men, it reminds us of where we came from, the trail they blazed,” he said. “It gives you an idea that if they did it, more of us will do it.”
And while there is no statue of Bethune in Washington Shores, Rucker says he remains inspired by his role in ensuring equitable access to housing in Central Florida.
He says the decision to honor him in marble in Washington, DC will help spread his legacy across the country.
“I see it as different than just representing Florida. I see her representing black people, and I see her crossing borders years ago and getting involved.