The Old 96 District celebrates Black History Month as a way to honor the memory of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and to remember an educational institution that had a major impact on many African Americans. Many historians believe that if it weren’t for Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the world might never have known about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The quieter Mays is surely not as famous as King, but Mays’ impact on American history reverberates more than 30 years after his death.
Benjamin Elijah Mays was born the youngest of eight children in the community of Epworth in Greenwood County, SC on August 1, 1894. A son of former slaves, Mays’ childhood played a key role in shaping the monumental figure that he would become. Mays was 22 years old when he finally graduated from high school and then attended Bates College in Maine to prove to himself that he was the intellectual equal of other people. Mays went on to become a math teacher and pastor, and in 1934 was named Dean of Religion at Howard University. He served as the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA from 1940-1967, and was called “one of the most important influences in my life” by Dr. Martin Luther King.
He served as a trusted advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and later to President Carter. In 1950, Mays was appointed by President Truman to the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children and Youth. In 1963, President Kennedy appointed Dr. Mays and Vice President Johnson to represent the US at the funeral of Pope Paul 23rd in Rome, Italy.
His influence on the civil rights movement and his love for education made him a frequent speaker and mentor. Dr. King often described Benjamin Mays as one of his closest friends. Together, Dr. King and Dr. Mays were very instrumental in securing rights for all people.
Mays died in 1984 and his childhood home, along with a one-room schoolhouse, has become the Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site in Greenwood, SC. At the Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site, visitors get a look back to the time of Mays childhood. In addition to the cabin where Dr. Mays lived, the site also features a one-room schoolhouse similar to the one Mays attended and a museum with photographs, excerpts from his speeches and other artifacts.
The Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site in Greenwood is open by appointment.
Call 864-229-2960 or visit www.mayshousemuseum.org.