Mary Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt met at a women’s luncheon hosted by Eleanor’s mother in law, Franklin’s mother Mrs. Roosevelt. Mary had just returned from a long needed vacation and was in New York before traveling south again. Her friends and supporters had felt she was working too hard. They had talked her into an extended vacation to Europe, where her fame had preceded her. She was treated as a dignitary on the trip and even had a private audience with the Pope.
Before the luncheon guests were seated, Mary heard a couple of southern accents and froze. She looked around and saw two very nice southern ladies looking at her, talking behind their hands. Mary realized there was a problem. She knew that with the Jim Crow laws in the South these nice ladies were in a terrible situation. They had been invited to a lunch at Mrs. Roosevelt’s. This was something that would definitely add to their social standing at home, but there was a Black woman there as a guest. If they shared a meal with her, it was illegal by southern law and they would be shunned by their society when they returned home. Mrs. Roosevelt understood what was happening and called Mary over to sit at her right hand. By making Mary the guest of honor, the Jim Crow problem was solved. The ladies were allowed to eat with a Black “guest of honor.” When Eleanor saw what was happening, she sat on the other side of Mary and so began their long friendship.
“Belinda Harden, Mary Bethune’s great niece, was the acting director of the Mary Bethune Humanitarian Network in 2011 when they found my website online. After the first phone call I was instantly excited by the project. Belinda and I became friends and we discussed what we could do to further her great aunt’s reputation. We decided on a series of Bronze Awards to be given from the Bethune Humanitarian Network to notables involved in both The Women’s Rights Movement and The Civil Rights Movement. These awards became pieces of art and generated much excitement in the recipients and others. Unfortunately, my friend Belinda died before we could bring about her wish of a monument, on the mall in Washington DC, of Mary and Eleanor standing together. Belinda said she could not find another example of a Black woman and a white woman together as equals on a monument anywhere in the world. I still believe her proposal is a wonderful idea, bringing Mary McLeod Bethune into her rightful place of honor in the modern world as an early champion of civil rights. We should always remember and cherish this strong and remarkable woman.”