Bryan Dorn was very proud of his friendship with educator Benjamin Mays. SCPC was delighted to provide from our Dorn collection a recording of Mays’ 1981 speech at the dedication of the Mays Crossroads. That speech is just one of the many treasures preserved thanks to the sense of history shared by Mr. Dorn and his wife Millie.
By Loy Sartin
Curator, Mays Museum and Historic Site
The Benjamin E. Mays Museum and Historic Site was officially dedicated in Greenwood on April 11, 2011. It was a grand celebration as visitors listened to Ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. Samuel Dubois Cook, President Franklin of Morehouse College, Dr. Elaine Tuttle Hansen of Bates College, Mrs. Billye Aaron and others lift up the praises of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and his monumental life. The mission of the site is to perpetuate the mighty legacy of one of the greatest Americans of the 20th Century, Dr. Benjamin E. Mays.
As the president of Morehouse College for twenty-seven years, Dr. Mays became a legend in his own time and a true national asset. He was called upon by Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter for service and counsel. It was Dr. Benjamin Mays who eulogized the immortal Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which was broadcast live across the nation and into Japan. As one of America’s preeminent educators, Dr. Mays served as president of the Atlanta Board of Education for almost twelve years from 1970-1981.
An early and forceful opponent of segregation, Mays was without peer as a public speaker railing against segregation and discrimination in the secular society as well as within the church. His famous sermon in 1954 at Evanston, Illinois at the 2nd Assembly of the World Council of Churches is a classic example of the passion with which he spoke against segregation and racial discrimination – a sermon that is printed as an appendix in his 1971 autobiography, Born to Rebel, and is credited with internationalizing the Civil Rights Movement.
To his students at Morehouse, Dr. Mays was almost God-like. Dr. Mays provided inspiration, hope and encouragement to students especially during the dark days of segregation in the forties, fifties, and early sixties. One student in the class of 1961 put it this way when he said to me, “You know, we worship Mays.” He gave “voice to the voiceless” to those who were helpless and treated as second class citizens because of forced segregation. Dr. Samuel Dubois Cook who eulogized Dr. Mays said in the introduction of Quotable Quotes of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, “Dr. Mays’ eloquent words, born of deep convictions, prophetic power and imagination, purity and sincerity of heart, integrity, character, and nobility have uniquely influenced human behavior, attitudes, thoughts, and choices; and affected and transformed human lives. The man has incredible powers of motivation, inspiration, and persuasion….he has the capacity to proclaim profound truths about human life and the journey of the self in simple, direct, easy, mind-gripping, clinging, unforgettable, haunting, cementing language.”
Dr. Mays returned to his place of birth on November 6, 1981 to be honored by the naming of an intersection near his home on US-178 as “Mays Crossroads.” Attended by many notables including Coretta Scott King and Congressman William Jennings Bryan Dorn, Dr. Mays gave a passionate and eloquent speech about his long life, his experiences, and the various places that life took him. As curator of the Mays Museum and Historic Site, I had been attempting to locate Dr. Mays’ speech for five years. Recently, I noticed that it was contained on an audio cassette tape donated to USC’s S.C. Political Collections by Congressman Bryan Dorn. I contacted Herbert Hartsook who graciously located the tape, converted it to a digital CD, and sent it to me. Needless to say, I was overjoyed to receive the speech! I plan to transcribe the speech and have it available in written form as well as audio form to visitors who desire a copy.