Florida's HBCU Profiles: Bethune Cookman University

Jan 22, 2018

Of Florida’s four historically black colleges and universities, only Bethune Cookman University was founded in the early 1900s and named after an African American woman. In the first part of our “HBCU Profiles” series, we'll take a look at the past, present, and future of B-CU.

Earlier this month, Bethune Cookman University [B-CU] students, faculty, and alumni celebrated the 5th Annual Wildcat Day at the Capitol on the steps of the Old Florida Capitol building.

How well do you know this HBCU? Mr. and Miss. B-CU Joshua Cox and Aminata Seye have a little quiz:

“Which HBCU is the first and only school in the state of Florida to have online degrees nationally certified,” Seye asked the group of students.

“B-CU,” they replied.

Which school in our state was the first HBCU to establish a college of entrepreneurship and business,” asked Cox.

“B-CU,” the crowd said again.

And, that’s not all, says Keshon Kindred, BCU’s Student Government Association President.

“No matter where you go in the world, you will find there is no place like B-CU, from the College of Undergraduate studies, to state of the art programs and hospitality and management from the championship winning fighting Wildcat football team to the international award-winning band and chorale groups, ” he said.

The rally included a performance by B-CU’s Concert Chorale. They sang the “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the black national anthem.

“As you all were singing, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ I look and I see the flag, the flag of the U.S. It gave me a moment of pause and think about the words of that song,” said the school’s Interim President Hubert Grimes to a group of students. “Through that song, we have seen generations of young people who in fact have, as the song says, ‘Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won.’ You see, WildCats, I want to take you back for just a moment historically and look at the shoulders that you’re standing on.”

Grimes says they all wouldn’t be here, if it wasn’t for the school’s founder, Mary McLeod Bethune. And, Earl Robinson Jr., a B-CU sophomore, says she’s not forgotten.

“We remember the spirit of our Founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, a woman by faith who began a school with just five little girls and $1.50 and faith in you,” said Robinson. “We remember the thousands of lives that have been transformed by Dr. Bethune’s school, and by faith, we celebrate the millions of lives that will be touched because of the work we will be doing in this place today.”

In recent years, Mary McLeod Bethune has garnered much attention at the Florida Capitol. There’s an effort underway to take down a statue of a Confederate General representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol, and replace him with an effigy of Bethune. B-CU’s First Lady and Class of 1970 alumni Daisy Grimes says it’s warranted because Bethune literally turned a city dump in Daytona Beach into the place of learning it is today.

“She went to meet with Mr. James Gamble, who was the owner of Proctor and Gamble, to encourage him and support her school,” said Grimes, back in a 2016 interview. “Mr. Gamble comes over to the area with Mrs. Bethune and he sees a city dump. And, he’s asking her this question, ‘what do you want me to invest in? Where is your school?’ She says, ‘it’s in my heart. It’s in my head. It is my vision to make life better for my people. Mr. Gamble became the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees for our University. Can you imagine?”    

So far, bills to put Bethune in the National Statuary Hall are moving in both chambers of the state legislature, and Ashley Robertson says she couldn’t be more excited. Robertson is a B-CU history professor and director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation, the historic home where Bethune lived most of her life.

“I mean when you look at the United States Capitol where this statue is going to be housed, the Capitol was built by slaves, so it’s going to be awesome to have a woman who was the daughter of enslaved parents—her brothers and sisters were enslaved,” said Robertson, back in 2016.  “It’s only right that she should be placed inside the Capitol with this great statue. And, she’s going to be a woman that’s going to receive a statute, and that’s would be awesome because there are only nine women that are represented by various states right now.”

If the Florida legislature passes the measure and the Governor signs it, Bethune would also make history as the first African American to be represented in the National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. Among the bill’s sponsors is Rep. Patrick Henry (D-Daytona Beach), an alumni of Bethune Cookman University. According to Henry, the state would not be on the hook for replacing the statue as B-CU is expected to raise the funds.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.