Civil Rights Pioneer
Mentor and Eulogist to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Benjamin E. Mays was born the youngest of eight children on the ragged edge of poverty on August 1, 1894 in the Epworth Community of Greenwood, South Carolina. His parents, Hezekiah and Louvenia Mays, were born into slavery and became tenant farmers in Epworth. Although Benjamin loved the farm, at a very early age he was imbued with a thirst for education. After graduating with straight As from high school at S. C. State College in 1916 at age 22, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Bates College in Maine in 1920, and later earned his Masters of Arts degree (1925) and Doctorate of Philosophy in Religion (1935) from the University of Chicago.
As the legendary President of Morehouse College from 1940 – 1967, Dr. Mays uniquely influenced and molded thousands of students, many of whom became leaders in all facets of American society. The distinct and unique African-American influence on America from 1940 through the Civil Rights Era can be tied directly to Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. He so inspired Martin Luther King, Jr., at the time a student at Morehouse, that he made the decision to enter the ministry. Dr. King’s unparalleled role in American history resulted in the conscience of our nation being raised, which led to the abolition of legalized segregation and the straightening of the moral compass of the United States.