Benjamin Elijah Mays (August 1, 1894 – March 28, 1984) was an American Baptist minister and civil rights leader who is credited with laying the intellectual foundations of the African-American civil rights movement. Mays taught and mentored many influential activists: Martin Luther King Jr, Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, and Donn Clendenon, among others. His rhetoric and intellectual work focused on notions of nonviolence and civil resistance–beliefs inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

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  • Benjamin Elijah Mays (August 1, 1894 – March 28, 1984) was an American Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights, and the progression of political rights of African Americans in America. He was active working with world leaders, such as John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and John D. Rockefeller, in improving the social standing of minorities in politics, education, and business.Mays was also a significant mentor to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. and King considered him, his "spiritual mentor" and "intellectual father." Mays was among the most articulate and outspoken critics of segregation before the rise of the modern civil rights movement in the United States. Mays became a civil rights activist early in his career, by publishing a dissertation entitled The Negro's Church, the first sociological study of the black church in the United States. Soon after in 1938, he published The Negro's God as Reflected in His Literature, both publications have heavily contributed to the study of religion, and sociology. He is widely credited as the most influential figure in the desegregation of Atlanta, Georgia.He served as the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia from 1940 to 1967. He revived the college from serious financial burden, which was at one point so prominent that the entire college's finances and endowment was given to Atlanta University to manage. Mays took the endowment back, raised the standards for endowment collection and allocation and by the end of his term more than quadrupled the endowment. He launched a 27-year tenure that brought the college into international prominence. He improved the working conditions for the staff and quality of the faculty, secured a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and controlled enrollment levels during wartime America. As president, he met hundreds of national and international leaders and served as a trusted advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter. He was appointed by President Truman to the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children and Youth. When Pope John XXIII died in 1963, President Kennedy sent Mays and his Vice President to represent the United States at the funeral in Rome, Italy.Originally enrolling in Virginia Union University, he moved north to attend Bates College in Maine, where he obtained his B.A. in 1920, as a Phi Beta Kappa graduate. He began his activist career as a pastor in the Shiloh Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He then entered the University of Chicago as a graduate student, earning an M.A. in 1925, and a Ph.D. in Religion in 1935. After he attained his Doctorate he went on to teach at Morehouse College, where he taught mathematics and was their debate coach. In 1934, he was appointed dean of the School of Religion at Howard University. (en)
  • Benjamin Elijah Mays (August 1, 1894 – March 28, 1984) was an American Baptist minister and civil rights leader who is credited with laying the intellectual foundations of the African-American civil rights movement. Mays taught and mentored many influential activists: Martin Luther King Jr, Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, and Donn Clendenon, among others. His rhetoric and intellectual work focused on notions of nonviolence and civil resistance–beliefs inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. The peak of his public influence occurred during his almost thirty years as the 6th President of Morehouse College, a historically black institution of higher learning.Mays was born in the Jim Crow South on a repurposed cotton plantation to freed sharecroppers. He traveled North to attend Bates College and the University of Chicago from where he began his career in activism as a pastor in the Shiloh Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. After a brief career as a professor, he was appointed as the Dean of the School of Religion at Howard University in 1934 which elevated him to national prominence as a proponent of the New Negro movement. Six years later, Mays was elected as the president of Morehouse College, an at-the-time financially unstable enterprise. Over his tenure from 1940 to 1967, the college's financial endowment was doubled and enrollment quadrupled; it was established as a leading liberal arts college in the United States.Due to the relative smallness of the college, Mays mentored and taught many students, most notably King. His connection with King spanned his early days at the college in 1944. King was known as Mays' "spiritual son" and Mays his "intellectual father." After King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, Mays gave the benediction. Upon the 1968 death of King, he was asked to give the eulogy where he described him in his "No Man is Ahead of His Time" speech. Mays stepped down from the presidency in 1967 continuing to work as a leader in the African American community. He presided over the Atlanta Board of Education from 1969 to 1978, where he initiated the desegregation of Atlanta.Mays' contributions to the civil rights movement have had him hailed as the "movement’s intellectual conscience" or alternatively the "Dean [or Schoolmaster] of the Movement". Historian Lawrence Carter described Mays as "one of the most significant figures in American history". Hundreds of streets, buildings, statues, awards, streets, scholarships, grants, and fellowships are named in his honor. Numerous efforts have been brought forward to posthumously award Mays the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as feature him on a U.S. postage stamp. (en)
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  • Benjamin Elijah Mays (August 1, 1894 – March 28, 1984) was an American Baptist minister and civil rights leader who is credited with laying the intellectual foundations of the African-American civil rights movement. Mays taught and mentored many influential activists: Martin Luther King Jr, Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, and Donn Clendenon, among others. His rhetoric and intellectual work focused on notions of nonviolence and civil resistance–beliefs inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. (en)
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