A Passionate Mind in Relentless Pursuit: The Vision of Mary McLeod Bethune (Significations) (Hardcover)

Pre-Order Now Badge
A Passionate Mind in Relentless Pursuit: The Vision of Mary McLeod Bethune (Significations) By Noliwe Rooks, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Series edited by) Cover Image
By Noliwe Rooks, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Series edited by)
Coming Soon - Available for Pre-Order Now


An intimate and searching account of the life and legacy of one of America’s towering educators, a woman who dared to center the progress of Black women and girls in the larger struggle for political and social liberation

When Mary McLeod Bethune died, tributes in newspapers around the country said the same thing: she should be on the Mount Rushmore of Black American achievement. Indeed, Bethune is the only Black American whose statue stands in Statuary Hall in the US Capitol, and yet for most, she remains a marble figure from the dim past. Now, seventy years later, Noliwe Rooks turns Bethune from stone to flesh, showing her to have been a visionary leader with lessons to still teach us as we continue on our journey toward a freer and more just nation.

Any serious effort to understand how the Black civil rights generation found role models, vision, and inspiration during their midcentury struggle for political power must place Bethune at its heart. Her success was unlikely: the fifteenth of seventeen children and the first born into freedom, Bethune survived brutal poverty and caste subordination to become the first in her family to learn how to read and to attend college. She gave that same gift to others when in 1904, at age twenty-nine, Bethune welcomed her first class of five girls to the Daytona, Florida, school she had founded and which would become the university that bears her name to this day. Bethune saw education as an essential dimension of the larger struggle for freedom, vitally connected to the vote and to economic self-sufficiency, and she enlisted Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and many other powerful leaders in her cause.

Rooks grew up in Florida, in Bethune’s shadow: her grandmother trained to be a teacher at Bethune-Cookman University, and her family vacationed at the all-Black beach that Bethune helped found in one of her many community empowerment projects. The story of how Bethune succeeded in a state with some of the highest lynching rates in the country is, in Rooks’s hands, a moving and astonishing example of the power of a mind and a vision that had few equals. Now, when the stakes of the long struggle for full Black equality in this country are particularly evident—and centered on the state of Florida—it is a gift to have this brilliant and lyrical reckoning with Bethune’s journey from one of our own great educators and scholars of that same struggle.

About the Author

Noliwe Rooks is the chair of and a professor in Africana Studies at Brown University. Her work explores how race and gender both impact and are impacted by popular culture, social history, and political life in the United States. The author of four books and numerous articles, essays, and op-eds, Rooks has received research funding from the Ford Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, among other organizations. She lectures frequently at colleges and universities around the country and is a regular contributor to popular outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Time, and NPR.

Praise For…

“Rooks restores [Mary McLeod Bethune] to the canon of fierce Black freedom fighters. . . . Rooks' redefining biography is essential reading.” Booklist (starred review)

“A layered portrait of a roving mind that pushed constantly against bounded systems. . . . A rewarding window onto the nuanced political thinking of the early civil rights movement.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Pays tribute to a beloved foremother and celebrates Bethune’s commitment to ‘stand up and fight for change.’ A fine introduction to Bethune’s philosophy, as well as a thoughtful primer for today’s activists.” —Kirkus

"Professor Noliwe Rooks draws on her command of historical events, her lived experiences as a Black woman, and her gift as a storyteller to give us this priceless written portrait of the life, the work, and the legacy of an American shero, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune." —Johnnetta Betsch Cole, seventh president and chair of the board of the NCNW, president emerita of Spelman and Bennett colleges

“In reflecting on Mary McLeod Bethune’s life and on her own, Noliwe Rooks offers a tribute to an inspiring leader and a meditation on race and history.” —Drew Faust, Arthur Kingsley Porter University Research Professor, Harvard University
“Noliwe Rooks's exceptional storytelling and impeccable research skills elevate this book to the pinnacle of works about Mary McLeod Bethune. It transcends historical narrative; it challenges us to reevaluate our understanding of Bethune's contributions and the lessons they offer us now.  Interwoven with the story of Bethune's indomitable spirit for advancing Black life is Rooks's own family history, rooted in Florida like Bethune and shaped by her legacy. Learning about Bethune through Rooks's lens is both a privilege and an honor for educators and readers alike.” —Bettina L. Love, William F. Russell Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University, and author of Punished for Dreaming: How School Reform Harms Black Children and How We Heal

“In the skillful hands of Noliwe Rooks, this remarkable life story of a crucial figure in American history becomes something more: a mesmerizing personal meditation on racial justice, political power, and the yearning for a home.” —Paul Tough, author of The Inequality Machine and How Children Succeed

Product Details
ISBN: 9780593492420
ISBN-10: 0593492420
Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: July 23rd, 2024
Pages: 208
Language: English
Series: Significations