Martin Luther King, Jr. Julian Bond. Andrew Young. These giants of the civil rights movement stood upon the shoulders of a remarkable leader, educator, man of faith and activist, Benjamin Mays, Ph.D. In his lifetime, Mays served as an ordained minister, the dean of religious studies at Howard University, president of Morehouse College and an advisor to several U.S. presidents. It was under Mays’ tutelage that Morehouse rose to international prominence as an educational institution. In the years since his death in 1984, Mays’ legacy has continued to flourish as his life has been celebrated in numerous memorials, scholarships and biographies.
Of all the tributes to Mays and his legacy, none offers as much insight into the humble beginnings and early influences that shaped Mays than the GLEAMNS Benjamin E. Mays Historical Site. A celebration commemorating the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the site is taking place the weekend of Nov. 5.
The celebratory events
The anniversary celebration of the historical site takes place over three days with each event being free and open to the public. There will also be new acquisitions and documents in the museum that offer further insight into Mays’ life.
The Life and Legacy of Dr. Benjamin Mays Panel Discussion
On Friday, November 5 from 6 to 8pm Lander University will host a lively discussion on May’s life and his influence on education, spirituality and the Civil Rights Movement. Panelists will include:
- Randal Maurice Jelks, Ph.D., Professor of African and African American Studies, and American Studies, University of Kansas. Jelks is the author of Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography;
- David Romine, Ph.D., Samuel DuBois Cook biographer, The Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University. Romine is currently working on a manuscript on writer Julian Mayfield;
- John Herbert Roper, Sr., Teaching Associate, History, Coastal Carolina University. Roper is the author of The Magnificent Mays: A Biography of Benjamin Elijah Mays; and
- E. James West, Ph.D., author of Ebony Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr.: Popular Black History in Postwar America. West is currently working on a manuscript, Our Kind of Historian: A Biography of Lerone Bennett Jr.
Located at Josephine B. Abney Cultural Center Auditorium, Lander University, 320 Stanley Avenue, Greenwood, S.C. 29649
A Legacy Worth Preserving Public Celebration
On Saturday, November 6 from 10am to Noon, Randal Maurice will give the keynote address commemorating the 10th anniversary. An award presentation will take place honoring 20 individuals who have championed Mays’ legacy and that of the historic site. The Lander University Minorities on the Move Gospel Choir will also perform. This event will be at GLEAMNS Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site, 237 North Hospital Street, Greenwood, S.C., 29648.
Lord the People Have Driven Me On Worship Service
On Sunday, November 7 at 10:45 am to 1pm the weekend will conclude with an ecumenical service at Mays’ childhood church, where he preached his first sermon at age 9. Old Mt. Zion Baptist Church recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. The church is located at 3107 Highway 248 S, South Ninety Six, S.C., 29648.
The sites’ origins
How the site came to be is as much a reflection of Mays as a person as it is of the Black experience in the South. The historical site honoring Mays first came together when Mays’ birth home was purchased and moved from its original location in Epworth, S.C. in 2004. Joseph Duran Patton, III Ph.D., the chief executive officer of GLEAMNS at the time, also oversaw the move of the Burns Spring School, representative of the Brickhouse School that Mays attended as a child, and curated the museum on the site. The site was open to the public in April 2011.
“In keeping with GLEAMNS’ mission to uplift those who are in poverty or in need, the Mays Site serves as a reflection to those who seek assistance from us. It’s a reminder that hard work, dedication and education can be the tools that you need to lift yourself up out of poverty, and May’s life, coming out from poverty and achieving all that he did really stands as a symbol of that.” said Chris Thomas, director of the historical site.
Since it’s dedication 10 years ago, the site has offered several programs and events that not only celebrate Mays’ life but are in keeping with the spirit of his life’s work. This includes tour groups, leading discussions at civic organizations and schools
“We’ve had a wonderful history of events, visitors and public officials since opening. Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon came,” reminisced Thomas. “We just had a wonderful time and opportunity to share the life and legacy of Dr. Mays with the people that come to Greenwood County and come to visit the Mays Site.”