Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement

Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 352
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    Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement
    Book Description:

    In this first full-length biography of Benjamin Mays (1894-1984), Randal Maurice Jelks chronicles the life of the man Martin Luther King Jr. called his "spiritual and intellectual father." Dean of the Howard University School of Religion, president of Morehouse College, and mentor to influential black leaders, Mays had a profound impact on the education of the leadership of the black church and of a generation of activists, policymakers, and educators. Jelks argues that Mays's ability to connect the message of Christianity with the responsibility to challenge injustice prepared the black church for its pivotal role in the civil rights movement.From Mays's humble origins in Epworth, South Carolina, through his doctoral education, his work with institutions such as the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the national YMCA movement, and his significant career in academia, Jelks creates a rich portrait of the man, the teacher, and the scholar.Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movementis a powerful portrayal of one man's faith, thought, and mentorship in bringing American apartheid to an end.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0174-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: I Have Been a Baptist All My Life
    (pp. 1-8)

    On April 9, 1968, Benjamin Elijah Mays had the burdensome honor of delivering a eulogy for Martin Luther King Jr. on the campus of Morehouse College.Timemagazine photographer Flip Schulke captured the somber moment: the retired college president faced a crowd that stretched as far as the eye could see. They were looking to Mays for words of comfort and inspiration as they tried to comprehend the civil rights leader’s assassination and to summon the courage to continue the struggle. Of all that Mays accomplished in his life, he would be remembered primarily as King’s mentor.¹ Yet Mays had...

  5. 1 My Earliest Memory Was a Mob
    (pp. 9-26)

    “I remember a crowd of white men who rode up on horseback with rifles on their shoulders. I was with my father when they rode up, and I remember starting to cry. They cursed my father, drew their guns and made him salute, made him take off his hat and bow down to them several times. Then they rode away. I was not yet five years old, but I have never forgotten them.”¹ So began Benjamin Mays’s description of his coming of age in an era of fear and terror. Mays was born in 1894 as the curtain of Jim...

  6. 2 I Set Out to Learn How the Sixty-Six Books of the Bible Were Produced
    (pp. 27-48)

    “Beginning with my mother, my oldest sister, and my brothers and my other brothers and sisters who were sympathetic with my desire to learn and get an education, I have felt my indebtedness to people,” Mays recollected at the age of eighty-seven. “Mother never went to school a day in her life,” he penned, “but she prayed that God would help me in my ambition to go to school.” He recalled that his oldest sister, Susie, fourteen years his senior, taught him to read and count and that his academic abilities quickly became a matter of familial pride. “The members...

  7. 3 In Search of a Call
    (pp. 49-79)

    An interviewer once posed a question to Mays concerning his choice to become an “educator” rather than be a full-time clergyman. Mays responded, “As a rule . . . I don’t think there are many people who chart their course precisely.”¹ This was certainly true for him. His career began inauspiciously after graduating from Bates. From 1920 until 1930 he lived a picaresque life in the sense that he moved through various jobs trying to gain status and prominence and a position to exercise his ministry.

    Mays’s decision to accept his calling as a Baptist clergyman was not simple. Ever...

  8. 4 The Negro’s God
    (pp. 80-107)

    Black churches were weekly topics of conversations in black communities. Black periodicals regularly covered the building of new churches, denominational conventions, famous preachers, and church scandals.¹ And black churches were everywhere—on busy streets in storefronts, on quiet corners in buildings with impeccable masonry, and on rural roads in structures built with rustic clapboards. As northern migration advanced, black religiosity transformed the American urban landscape. For Mays, black Protestant churches were the central institutions in the everyday lives of countless black Americans and therefore needed to be understood historically and sociologically and modernized theologically. And that is exactly what he...

  9. 5 The Most Neglected Area in Negro Education
    (pp. 108-137)

    In a 1933 article, “The Education of the Negro Ministers,” Benjamin Mays summarized many of the conclusions he had come to regarding black clergymen inThe Negro’s Church: “Religion is non-competitive. Frequently it does not deal with social and economic needs. Often it projects its hopes in a distant future or dreams of a heaven where the values sought here, but unattained, will be realized in some far-off glory land.” As a result, “it was much easier for the Negro to achieve freedom in religion than it was for him to acquire it in other fields. . . . It...

  10. 6 Schoolmaster of the Movement
    (pp. 138-164)

    On Saturday, May 11, 1940, theAtlanta Daily Worldheadline proclaimed, “Dr. Mays Elected President of Morehouse.” The article informed its readers that “Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, Dean of the School of Religion of Howard University, and formerly a member of Morehouse College faculty, Friday was elected president of Morehouse College. Dr. Mays was the unanimous choice of the board of trustees, which met in annual session here.” Among black Baptists, Mays’s selection to the presidency of Morehouse College was bigger news than the selection of Winston Churchill as Britain’s wartime prime minister. The announcement about Mays even dwarfed the...

  11. 7 Seeking to Be Christian in Race Relations
    (pp. 165-188)

    In 1946, Mays authored a twenty-five-cent booklet titledSeeking to Be Christian in Race Relations. It was part of a trilogy called “The Christian and Race,” which also included Ethel Alpenfels’sNonsense about Raceand Margaret C. McCulloch’sKnow—Then Act, published by the United Methodist Women’s Friendship Press.¹ The United Methodist women played a crucial, yet unsung, role in facilitating the distribution of this and other important civil rights literature.² According to Mays, their role was equal to that of the naacp in educating the American public about ending “an uncivilized era” of racial intolerance.³ His small book was...

  12. 8 I Have Only Just a Minute
    (pp. 189-211)

    During his tenure as president of Morehouse College, Mays constantly recited to his students an anonymous poem titled “God’s Minute”:

    I have only a minute.

    Only sixty seconds in it,

    Forced upon me— can’t refuse it.

    Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it,

    But it’s up to me to use it.

    I must suffer if I lose it,

    Give account if I abuse it.

    Just a tiny little minute—

    But eternity is in it.¹

    He consistently encouraged them to use time wisely, because time was fleeting. For Mays, the ephemeral nature of time required that each person be deliberate and wise....

  13. 9 This Is Not a Short War, This Is a Long War
    (pp. 212-240)

    On February 1, 1960, the Greensboro sit-in, carried out by four male freshmen from North Carolina A&T, caught everyone by surprise for its boldness and its simplicity. Within weeks of the Greensboro sit-in, black students all over the South were feverishly participating in acts of civil disobedience. By March, students in the Atlanta University complex of colleges were also swept up in the tide of sit-ins, civic demonstrations, and street protests throughout the city. Nothing prepared Mays for the next eleven years, from 1960 to 1971, with the advent of sustained public civil rights protest throughout the country.¹ These years...

  14. EPILOGUE: Lord, the People Have Driven Me On
    (pp. 241-250)

    WhenBorn to Rebelwas published, Mays was nearly seventy-seven. Though aged, he never relented in his struggle to achieve full democracy for black Americans. Segregation in American society was simply wrong religiously or otherwise. He had written journal articles, newspaper columns, and books urging both blacks and whites to rethink their understanding of Christianity in order to end white supremacy. He thoughtfully engaged with and challenged American society. Along with his black theological peers, he helped to reformulate American civil religious discourse to aid black freedom struggles.

    “Benjamin Mays is one of those persons in America who understood long...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 251-298)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 299-318)
  17. Index
    (pp. 319-327)