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A Life of Education & Leadership – Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

A Life of Education & Leadership – Dr. Benjamin E. Mays

Visionary, leader, educator and gentleman; each describes Dr. Benjamin E. Mays.  A giant of a man who was influential as a teacher, minister, author, activist, theologian, and scholar.  His leadership was shared with students and Presidents, where his wisdom guided many to success.  The son of a former slave and sharecropper, Dr. Mays obtained educational success far beyond what was expected of him.  Raised in the Jim Crow South, where young black men were supposed to follow in the footsteps of other Blacks to become farmers, he went against the status quo.

At odds with his father about his future, Dr. Mays sought to become educated, attend high school and college.  His father, unsupportive and discouraging of going away to school and leaving their sharecropper’s farm, would eventually recognize his tremendous success and influence.

Before his death on March 28, 1984, Dr. Mays received 56 honorary doctorate degrees, authored nearly 2,000 articles and eight books, spoke at our 200 colleges and universities and was president of Morehouse College for 27 years.  During the time he was president of Morehouse, Dr. Martin Luther King attended college and credits Dr. Mays as being both a spiritual and educational mentor.

You can visit his humble beginnings at the Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site in Greenwood, South Carolina. The center and museum is the result of a 20-year effort by a group of concerned citizens to secure his birth home and where he lived with his seven siblings.

Listen to the interview with Christopher Thomas, Director of the museum

      1. 4-15-17 3 Dr Mays 1

Interview with museum director Christopher Thomas – Part 1

      2. 4-15-17 4 Dr Mays

Interview with museum director Christopher Thomas – Part 2


Dr. Mays was born in this house on August 1, 1894, in the Epworth Community of Greenwood County, South Carolina. The home was moved to this site in 2004.





An antique quilt hangs over a chair near the fireplace in the front room of the home.


Dr. Mays mother made their clothing.


The room served a double purpose. The master bedroom where Dr. Mays’ parents, Hezekiah and Louvenia slept. Other chores such as ironing were done in this room too.


Furnishings served a functional purpose.


The stove in the kitchen which is where the family also ate dinner.


Farming equipment.
Equipment used on the farm.
Picking cotton was part of Dr. Mays’ young life. He once picked over 400 pounds of cotton a day. He was very proud of that.


The original Burns Spring School from the Epworth area donated to the Historic Site. The building is a replica of the childhood Brickhouse School Dr. Mays attended. It was named Brickhouse School because it was near a brick house.


Teacher's desk and classroom reminiscent of the school days of Dr. Mays.
Teacher’s desk and classroom reminiscent of the school days of Dr. Mays.


Several things you may not have known about Dr. Benjamin E. Mays
– Benjamin Elijah Mays was born in SE Greenwood County in 1894, the youngest of eight children and the son of former slaves
– Growing up in an atmosphere of racism and violence while living on his family’s tenant farm, Benjamin became devoted to pursuing an education
– He graduated as Class Valedictorian from SC State College in 1916
– He later attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine where he learned alongside white classmates and was the captain of the debate team
– After graduating from Bates College, Benjamin continued to hold leadership positions at colleges and at the YMCA
From 1928 to 1930 he conducted a national study of African American churches and later wrote his first book The Negro’s Church in 1933
– In 1935, he earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Religion from the University of Chicago
– He became president of Morehouse College in 1940 when the college was suffering through from the effects of the Great Depression
– Benjamin established a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, increased the number of PhD faculty to 50% and increased enrollment
– He even established the early admissions program which allowed the one and only Martin Luther King to be admitted to college at the age of 15
– Dr. Mays became a spiritual and emotional mentor to Dr. King and he also served as a trusted advisor to three presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Carter)
– Even after retiring from his position at Morehouse, Mays continued to be an active member of society and an advocate for education and racial equality
– He earned more than 65 honors and awards over his lifetime
– The May House Museum represents Benjamin’s roots, his birthplace and is a great opportunity to see where one of history’s great leaders and educators began his story

Visit the museum:

237 N Hospital ST
Greenwood, SC 29646
Phone: (864) 223-8434

For more information:  http://discoversouthcarolina.com/products/3658


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