“It is not your environment, it is you — the quality of your minds, the integrity of your souls, and the determination of your wills that will decide your future and shape your lives.” Dr. Benjamin E. Mays
Until a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays. But, through the direction of Barbara Ware of the Old 96 District in South Carolina and the astute knowledge of Chris Thomas, I now know and appreciate the accomplishments and motivations of this remarkable man.
Three main buildings can be toured at the Dr. Benjamin Mays Historic Preservation Site in Greenwood, S.C. One is the birth house of Dr. Mays, who lived there with his parents and his seven siblings. His parents were former slaves who became tenant farmers.
Another is a replica one-room schoolhouse representative of one where Dr. Mays attended school in his early years.
The last is the actual museum housing hundreds of photographs and documents gathered throughout his life.
If you watched the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. back in 1968, you probably saw Dr. Mays since he gave the eulogy. Dr. Mays was the president of Morehouse College from 1940-1967, and that is where he met Dr. King during his days as a student. Dr. Mays became a mentor to King. In addition, he was a Baptist minister, an author, and a civil rights pioneer.
Dr. Mays was the valedictorian of his high school class in 1916. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Bates College in Maine and went on to earn both master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Chicago. This man who started out in a one-room schoolhouse was eventually conferred FIFTY-SIX honorary doctoral degrees from 1945-1984.
Chris Thomas, the man who shared all of this information as well as the heart and soul behind it, is a perfect choice to be the Director of the Preservation Site. He majored in history at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and received a Master of Arts and Theological Studies from Liberty University. He pastors a local church and is an avid student of African and African-American history. When you visit, you will be fortunate indeed to have Mr. Thomas as your guide. He continues to work tirelessly on the development of the site which was recently named a part of the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.
Suffice it to say, I was inspired by both Dr. Mays and Mr. Thomas.
Here is another thought-provoking quote by Dr. Mays — “When we build fences to keep others out, erect barriers to keep others down, deny to them the freedom which we ourselves enjoy and cherish most, we keep ourselves in, hold ourselves down, and the barriers we erect against others become prison bars to our own souls.”
I believe his words have a biblical ring to them. Consider these verses:
Matthew 5:44 – (Jesus said) “ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, . . . “
John 13:35 – (Jesus said) “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Galatians 3:28 – (Paul said) “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”