Dr. Benjamin Mays – Mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King

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Benjamin Mays Historic Site Greenwood, SC

Benjamin Elijah Mays was born the youngest of eight children in the community of Epworth in Greenwood County on August 1, 1894. A son of former slaves, Mays’ childhood played a key role in shaping the monumental figure that he would become. It was as President of Morehouse College that Mays achieved his widest scope of influence in civil rights and education. Mays became president of Morehouse in 1940 when the college was at its lowest point since its founding in 1867.
As president, Mays established a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, increased the number of faculty holding PhD’s to fifty percent, and increased enrollment. Perhaps the most significant relationship that he developed was with Martin Luther King Jr. Mays became both a spiritual and emotional mentor to King, and Dr. King admitted that he was led to the ministry because of the influence of Dr. Mays especially during his famous Tuesday morning chapel sermons to the students. Dr. Mays became so close to Dr. King that later in life he referred to King “as a son”. Dr. Mays was a great supporter of King’s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement and its policy of non-violence.
In 1974, Dr. Mays was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by Lander University in his home town of Greenwood, SC located in the Old 96 District.  In 1981, Mays returned to Epworth, his childhood home, to be honored by the local community. The event was attended by family and friends including Coretta Scott King and dignitaries from the state. Mays had been honored the year before by becoming only the second African-American to have his portrait hung in the South Carolina State House.
Mays’ birthplace remains as stark physical evidence of his early life and is a reminder of the struggle that he experienced and the restrictions placed on him simply because of his race. No other building survives that is so closely associated with Mays’ life. The Benjamin Mays Historic Site also provides visual testimony to the agricultural significance of the tenant farming system and its social and economic limitations of the many blacks as well as whites who labored in the period after Reconstruction.

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Old 96 District
October 18, 2017
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