The below excerpt comes from an article written by Loy Sartin, Curator and Director Emeritus of the Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site. It was published in the Index Journal on July 5, 2020 and is reprinted here with permission from Mr. Sartin.
In Greenwood County, the place of his [Dr. Benjamin Mays’s] birth, he experienced racists, violence, and discrimination. I’m glad that Greenwood has in recent times come to respect his life and his many accomplishments, and that we’ve been able to establish the Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site in our city limits, a place dedicated to perpetuate his enormous legacy which includes his life-long efforts toward achieving racial reconciliation. It’s been one of the great honors of my life to have played a small part in its establishment in 2010, to have served as its curator/director for about seven years, and to have had the opportunity to meet many of Dr. Mays’ relatives and associates.
Dr. Mays made a tremendous impact on our nation by developing men of character, by his close association with three U.S. presidents, and by his mentorship of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a monumental, influential figure of the 20th Century and, even in death, is still influencing and changing lives. Senator John Drummond’s life was changed because of his association with Dr. Mays, as were many other white Southerners.
Congressman Bryan Dorn’s life was greatly impacted by Dr. Mays. Conversely, many black students’ lives at Morehouse College during segregation were impacted positively because Dr. Mays made it a practice to hire many Southern white men and women during his twenty-seven years as president. Dr. Mays stated, “It has been my belief that it is good to bring together Southern white teachers and black students since the racial gulf which usually prevents meeting on a basis of equality is so wide—in fact, it is almost impossible to span.” He spent much of his life reaching across the color line, even with Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone with the Wind. There was great respect between the two and their friendship lasted for over eight years until she was killed crossing a street in Atlanta in 1949. Lastly, how many students’ lives will be impacted at Lander as Dr. Kevin Witherspoon, Professor of History, serving as the inaugural holder of the Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair, teaches the life of Dr. Mays?
Dr. Mays was involved in some of the great societal issues of our nation and had a positive influence upon what America would become post-segregation. As a lover of history, I have recently been rereading some of Dr. Mays’ profound written materials such as his benediction at the March on Washington, August 28, 1963, delivered right after Dr. King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech. His prayer seems almost as appropriate today as it was in 1963. Also, it was Greenwood’s own Dr. Benjamin E. Mays who delivered the eulogy to Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Ironically, just five years earlier after President Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, Dr. Mays penned a handwritten letter to Dr. King which began with these words: “Kennedy’s death was almost more than I could take.” (A copy of this letter is in the Mays Museum). Dr. Mays stated in his autobiography, “Few men in America have I admired as much as John Fitzgerald Kennedy.”
God has truly blessed our country with men like Mays and King who strove with every ounce of energy in their bodies to make America a “more perfect union.” Here in the middle of the Fourth of July weekend, it is a good time to remember the many ways that God has blessed the United States. We should be grateful to God for our country; we should love our country and do everything in our power to improve it. And, I think it begins with loving our neighbor as ourselves. If we do this, America can become a happy nation for everyone, and will prosper and continue to be a beacon of hope for all of mankind.