In June 2013 I left for Daytona Beach to become the new curator of the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation. I’d never visited the home or the new town but this was an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I still remember the mixed feelings of sadness and extreme joy about the new endeavor I was about to take on. When I arrived and got to see the place where Dr. Bethune had spent over forty years of her life living in and the campus that she built up from a trash dump I was floored. Having worked in her Washington, D.C. home (which is now a National Park Service Site) and spent hours reading her diaries and notes to write my dissertation this was the culmination of a dream.
Having recently graduated I must admit that it felt overwhelming at first but it’s amazing what happens when God has preordained your steps. Truly when he blesses you “he addeth no sorrow with it.” One of the first things that I wanted to do was establish that the home was a museum that would not just do tours but that it was and is the space that should be responsible for disseminating information on the life and legacy of Dr. Bethune. As a result I established a quarterly newsletter and have been doing a bit of lecturing and presenting on the life of Dr. Bethune to promote the museum. Essentially we want to attract people from around the world to learn more about the life of the “First Lady of Negro America.” I also found that the home was in great shape due to a grant written by the previous curator. However, some of the items inside, particularly Dr. Bethune’s clothing, need restoration. The major challenge has been funding to get these items fully restored and properly preserved. I’ve started to write grants and they’re no small task but I am persistent. Luckily my challenges have been few and most of the community and the University have been very receptive to our new policies and procedures. Another challenge has been creating visibility for the Foundation without overstepping the University. Initially the Foundation was created by Dr. Bethune as a separate entity so it is sometimes difficult to step from under the identity of the University.
The most rewarding part of this job is the community outreach in the name of Dr. Bethune. We’ve been hosting “Books and Bears” programs with the children in the local community and its been amazing. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been the glue for our communities and it feels good to continue the legacy here in Daytona Beach. Dr. Bethune would want our library and her home open to teach our children. I’m honored to be responsible for such an important part of history and I don’t take this position lightly. As I often tell my student interns “We work for Dr. Bethune!” and that’s exactly how I feel.
Dr. Ashley Robertson
Field Hands, 1988 Jonathan Green. Oil on masonite.
(The Kinsey Collection)
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