Benjamin Mays – Encyclopedia of New Georgia

Perhaps best known as the longtime president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Benjamin Mays was a distinguished African-American minister, educator, scholar, and social activist. He was also an important mentor to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and was among the most outspoken and outspoken critics of segregation before the rise of the modern civil rights movement in the United States. Mays has also held leadership positions in several prominent national and international organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Young Men’s International Christian Association (YMCA), the World Council of churches, the United Negro College Fund, the National Baptist Convention, the Urban League, the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, the Southern Conference Educational Fund, and the Peace Corps Advisory Committee.


Benjamin Elijah Mays was born on August 1, 1894 or 1895 in a rural area outside of Ninety-Six, South Carolina. He was the youngest of eight children born to Louvenia Carter and Hezekiah Mays, sharecroppers and freedmen. A recurring theme in Mays’ childhood and early adulthood was her quest for education against the odds. He refused to be limited by the widespread poverty and racism of his birthplace. After some struggles, he was accepted into Bates College in Maine. After earning his BA there in 1920, Mays entered the University of Chicago as a graduate student, earning a master’s degree in 1925 and a doctorate. at the School of Religion in 1935.

Career and achievements

of may education in Chicago was interrupted several times, first by stints as a professor at Morehouse and South Carolina State College. During his tenure with the latter, he met his future wife, Sadie Gray. They had been married since forty-three years, from 1926 until his death in 1969. Mays’ work for the Urban League and YMCA also carried forward his doctoral efforts. In 1933, with co-author Joseph Nicholson, Mays published a groundbreaking study titled The Church of the Negroeswhich describes the unique origins and character of this central African-American institution, offering a critique of some of its problematic clerical practices.

Less than a year before completing his dissertation in Chicago in the spring of 1935, Mays accepted a position as dean of the Howard University School of Religion in Washington, D.C. Mays distinguished himself as an effective administrator, elevating the Howard Program to legitimacy and distinction. among the schools of religion. During his tenure there, Mays also traveled extensively, which would become a consistent aspect of his career. Perhaps the most significant of these trips was a trip to India in 1936, where he spoke at length with Mahatma Gandhi, anticipating an exchange of ideas that would materialize during the civil rights movement a few years later. Mays also continued her academic endeavors. In 1938 he published The Negro’s God, as reflected in his literaturea study of the image and concept of God in African-American Christianity.

In 1940 Mays became president of Morehouse College. There he achieved national prominence, enjoying great influence over key events in United States history. His most famous student at Morehouse was Martin Luther King Jr. During King’s years as an undergraduate at Morehouse in the mid-1940s, the two developed a close relationship that continued until the King’s death in 1968. Mays’ unwavering emphasis on two ideas in particular—the dignity of all human beings and the incompatibility of American democratic ideals with American social practices—became vital tensions in King’s language. and the civil rights movement. Although Mays’s essays and sermons throughout his years at Morehouse chronicled these ideas, their clearest explanation came in his book Seek to be Christian in Race Relationspublished in 1957.

Benjamin May

As a trustee of Morehouse, Mays expanded and streamlined the structure of the institution and improved its academic reputation. He was a very successful fundraiser, securing the necessary financial support for Morehouse to pursue its educational goals. Beyond these practical concerns, Mays left a legacy of distinguished Morehouse graduates and lent the college its own inimitable style, characterized by rigor and enthusiasm for the Morehouse mission.

After his 1967 retirement from Morehouse, Mays remained active in several prominent social and political organizations and was in demand as a lecturer and lecturer. As the school board’s first black chair, hWe oversaw the desegregation of Atlanta Public Schools between 1970 and 1981. He also published two autobiographies during those years, Born to rebel (1971) and Lord, people pushed me (nineteen eighty one). He died in 1984.

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