(Anne Eller of Greenwood affiliate WLMA contributed to this report)
People from all walks of life will descend on the town Greenwood to celebrate the life of an area native son who rose to prominence as an icon in the field of education, an advisor to three U.S. Presidents, and a mentor to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays Historical Preservation Site will be dedicated in Greenwood at 1:00 Tuesday. Former United Nations Ambassador, Atlanta mayor, and civil rights pioneer Andrew Young will deliver the keynote address.
Dr. Mays was born near Epworth, South Carolina in 1894, the youngest of eight children of former slaves. He is best known for his 27-year career as president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, an historically black liberal arts men’s college known for producing a number of the nation’s prominent African-American leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King.
Dr. Mays, who was also a Baptist minister, died in 1984.
The cabin where Mays was born has been relocated to the preservation site. It also includes a one-room school building circa 1900 from Dr. Mays’s native Epworth, similar to a school he attended. To add to the home’s aesthetics, a family garden and an old-fashioned well were placed on the property– along with an authentic two-seat outhouse.
During his life, Dr. Mays also had the occasion to mentor the life of American baseball icon Hank Aaron. The former Atlanta Brave and Hall-of-Famer shared his thoughts about Dr. Mays with Greenwood affiliate WLMA.
Aaron said he will forever be indebted to Dr. Mays, not only for his sage advice but also because he introduced Aaron to his wife Billye Williams Aaron, a former television personality on WSB-TV in Atlanta.
Aaron recalled a number Thanksgivings when he and his wife entertained Dr. Mays at their home in Atlanta.
Mays was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Bates College in Maine. He later obtained a master’s degree in 1925 from the University of Chicago, where he later earned a PH.D degree in 1935. In 1934, he was appointed dean of the School of Religion at Howard University in Washington, D.C. , serving six years before moving on to Morehouse in 1940. Upon his retirement, he served as president of the Atlanta Board of Education from 1970 to 1981.Throughout his educational career; he would eventually receive 56 honorary degrees, including a posthumously awarded degree from Columbia University. He published nearly 2000 articles and nine books.