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Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement

A Biography

Randal Maurice Jelks

Publication Year: 2012

Best remembered as Martin Luther King's mentor, Benjamin Mays was an African American church scholar, dean of the Howard University School of Religion, long-time president of Morehouse College, and the author of six books on religion. A critical figure in the civil rights movement, Mays also made important contributions to African American higher education and to the study of African American Protestantism. Jelks’s biography shows Mays’s role in articulating the ideology of the modern African American Protestant church and then training the generation that brought that theology to bear on the civil rights movement.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xvi

In the fall of 1994 this book began as a paper I presented at the centennial celebration of Benjamin Elijah Mays at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. That paper, thanks to Dr. Lawrence Carter, dean of the Martin Luther King, Jr., International Chapel at Morehouse College, was subsequently presented at Morehouse ...

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Introduction: I Have Been a Baptist All My Life

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pp. 1-8

On April 9, 1968, Benjamin Elijah Mays had the burdensome honor of delivering a eulogy for Martin Luther King Jr. on the campus of Morehouse College. Time magazine photographer Flip Schulke captured the somber moment: the retired college president faced a crowd that stretched as far as the eye could see. ...

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1. My Earliest Memory Was a Mob

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pp. 9-26

“I remember a crowd of white men who rode up on horseback with rifles on their shoulders. I was with my father when they rode up, and I remember starting to cry. They cursed my father, drew their guns and made him salute, made him take off his hat and bow down to them several times. ...

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2. I Set Out to Learn How the Sixty-Six Books of the Bible Were Produced

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pp. 27-48

“Beginning with my mother, my oldest sister, and my brothers and my other brothers and sisters who were sympathetic with my desire to learn and get an education, I have felt my indebtedness to people,” Mays recollected at the age of eighty-seven. “Mother never went to school a day in her life,” he penned, ...

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3. In Search of a Call

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pp. 49-79

An interviewer once posed a question to Mays concerning his choice to become an “educator” rather than be a full-time clergyman. Mays responded, “As a rule . . . I don’t think there are many people who chart their course precisely.”1 This was certainly true for him. His career began inauspiciously after graduating from Bates. ...

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4. The Negro’s God

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pp. 80-107

Black churches were weekly topics of conversations in black communities. Black periodicals regularly covered the building of new churches, denominational conventions, famous preachers, and church scandals.1 And black churches were everywhere—on busy streets in storefronts, on quiet corners in buildings with impeccable masonry, ...

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5. The Most Neglected Area in Negro Education

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pp. 108-137

In a 1933 article, “The Education of the Negro Ministers,” Benjamin Mays summarized many of the conclusions he had come to regarding black clergymen in The Negro’s Church: “Religion is non-competitive. Frequently it does not deal with social and economic needs. ...

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6. Schoolmaster of the Movement

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pp. 138-164

On Saturday, May 11, 1940, the Atlanta Daily World headline proclaimed, “Dr. Mays Elected President of Morehouse.” The article informed its readers that “Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, Dean of the School of Religion of Howard University, and formerly a member of Morehouse College faculty, Friday was elected president of Morehouse College. ...

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7. Seeking to Be Christian in Race Relations

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pp. 165-188

In 1946, Mays authored a twenty-five-cent booklet titled Seeking to Be Christian in Race Relations. It was part of a trilogy called “The Christian and Race,” which also included Ethel Alpenfels’s Nonsense about Race and Margaret C. McCulloch’s Know—Then Act, published by the United Methodist Women’s Friendship Press.1 ...

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8. I Have Only Just a Minute

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pp. 189-211

He consistently encouraged them to use time wisely, because time was fleeting. For Mays, the ephemeral nature of time required that each person be deliberate and wise. Throughout the 1950s he used his own “minute” to vigorously promote his Christian vision of American society. ...

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9. This Is Not a Short War, This Is a Long War

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pp. 212-240

On February 1, 1960, the Greensboro sit-in, carried out by four male freshmen from North Carolina A&T, caught everyone by surprise for its boldness and its simplicity. Within weeks of the Greensboro sit-in, black students all over the South were feverishly participating in acts of civil disobedience. ...

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Epilogue: Lord, the People Have Driven Me On

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pp. 241-250

When Born to Rebel was published, Mays was nearly seventy-seven. Though aged, he never relented in his struggle to achieve full democracy for black Americans. Segregation in American society was simply wrong religiously or otherwise. He had written journal articles, newspaper columns, and books ...


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pp. 251-298

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 299-318


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pp. 319-327

E-ISBN-13: 9781469601748
E-ISBN-10: 1469601745
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807835364
Print-ISBN-10: 0807835366

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 787852195
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement

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Subject Headings

  • Mays, Benjamin E. (Benjamin Elijah), 1894-1984.
  • Morehouse College (Atlanta, Ga.) -- Presidents -- Biography.
  • African American educators -- Biography.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights.
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