Mary Mcleod Bethune Legacy Festival honors educator, humanitarian


The organizers of the annual Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune festival in Mayesville decided to shift the timing and focus of the event with this year's edition, which starts Thursday and goes through Sunday.

Mayesville Mayor Jereleen Hollimon-Miller and her husband, Ed Miller, outlined this year's festival Tuesday. Mayor Hollimon-Miller is the grandniece of Bethune, who was born in Mayesville and later became an educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian and civil rights activist.

Previously, the mayor said the town hosted the Dr. Bethune Birthday Celebration each July around Bethune's birthday to commemorate her life. Starting this year, the event is shifting to May to coincide with Bethune's passing and will be called the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Legacy Festival.

The theme of this year's inaugural legacy festival is "Empowering Community Building through History, Art, Education, Music and Sports."

The Millers said the primary focus of the event will still be on education, which was a passion for Bethune. According to the mayor, one of the main events of the four-day festival will be a theatrical play Friday night from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Legacy Theatre in downtown Mayesville showcasing the early life of a young Mary McLeod growing up in Mayesville. The Millers said this part of Bethune's life is often overlooked by the history books.

"It will be the unsung story of Mary McLeod Bethune," Jereleen Hollimon-Miller said. "Most of what we read doesn't really tell a whole lot, so you have to read between the lines and see where things lie."

The daughter of former slaves, Bethune became the first person in her family to read and attend school. She later became best known for starting a private school for black students in Daytona Beach, Florida. Bethune's leadership and ability to help raise money helped the school to merge with another institution and eventually become Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college today. She also was appointed as a national adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The festival will also include a celebrity all-star basketball game, slam dunk contest and three-point shootout at Sumter High School on Thursday afternoon and evening with a couple former Harlem Globetrotters and National Basketball Association players in attendance.

Bobby "Zorro" Hunter, a retired Globetrotter, will be one of them. He's part of a network of former Harlem Globetrotters who conduct various activities across the U.S. to mentor youth. He explained his connection with this year's Bethune festival.

"Right now, we are looking to embellish certain athletes and certain people, such as Dr. Bethune, in their legacy of what they have done, not only for the educational process, but just in how they have lived their life and what they do," Hunter said.

Hunter will take part in all four days of the festival. The other former Globetrotter in attendance will be Larry "Gator" Rivers. Former NBA standouts Xavier McDaniel and Ricky Sobers will also take part in Thursday's event at Sumter High and other weekend activities.

Other highlights of the festival include the opening of Dr. Bethune Art Gallery on Friday night in downtown Mayesville. Saturday's events in Mayesville include a parade in the morning and a gospel choir competition and car and bike show in the afternoon. The parade's grand marshal will be Bishop Jonathan Holston, bishop of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.

For a full event schedule, go to