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Benjamin E. Mays photographs

Collection number: ahc.VIS40

Scope and Content

The images consist of portraits of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, primarily at public events such as graduation ceremonies or committee meetings during his tenure as the president of Morehouse College. Other photographs consist of Mays with other individuals or groups, including faculty members. Most of the group photographs are identified by event only and include general faculty or administrators posed in cap and gown, consisting of Benjamin E. Mays; Charles E. Merrill, Chairman, Board of Trustees, Morehouse College; and Hugh M. Gloster, former president of Morehouse College. Unidentified photographs include images of college events, open houses, receptions, committee meetings, and award dinners. Of special note are views of Mays pictured in discussion with groups or individuals of the Shining Light Award ceremony in July 1981, presented by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for significant civic contribution to the city of Atlanta. Also of note is a photograph of William V.S. Tubman, former President of Liberia, who received an honorary degree from Morehouse College in 1961.


  • approximately 1947-1981


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

This material is protected by copyright law. (Title 17, U.S. Code) Permission for use must be cleared through the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. Licensing agreement may be required.

Administrative/Biographical History

Benjamin Elijah Mays (1894-1984) served as an author, educator, minister, sociologist, social activist, and internationally recognized as longtime Morehouse College president. The youngest of eight children, Mays was born in Ninety-Six, South Carolina, to Louvenia Carter (1862-1938) and Hezekiah Mays (1856-1938), tenant farmers who were born into slavery. After graduating as valedictorian from high school in 1916, Mays spent one year at Virginia Union College in Richmond, Virginia, and later, he transferred to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. In 1920, Mays graduated with honors from Bates College and became an ordained minister in the Baptist Church. Mays then enrolled into the University of Chicago for graduate school, earning his master’s degree in 1925 and a Ph.D. in the School of Religion in 1935.

During his tenure as a Ph.D. student, Mays taught at several colleges and universities and worked for prestigious institutions, including pastoring at Shiloh Baptist Church (1921-1924), and teaching at South Carolina State College. While a professor at South Carolina State College, Mays met his future wife, Sadie Gray (1900-1969), to whom he was married from 1926-1969. After graduating with his Ph.D., Mays became the president of Morehouse College (1940-1967). While there, he was a mentor to his most famous student, Martin Luther King, Jr. in the mid 1940’s. Their relationship continued until King’s death in 1968, in which Mays presented the final eulogy at his friend’s funeral. In 1967, Mays retired from Morehouse College, but remained active in several political and social organizations. He served on the Atlanta Board of Education from 1969-1981 and was in high demand for speaking engagements and lecturing opportunities. Mays scholarly efforts led to his publication of The Negro’s Church, which he co-authored with Joseph Williams Nicholson in 1933. Mays also published two autobiographies, Born to Rebel in 1971 and Lord, the People Have Driven Me in 1981.

Mays died in an Atlanta hospital after a long illness on March 28, 1984.


45 photographic print(s) (45 black and white photographs)



System of Arrangement

This collection is arranged alphabetically according to titles supplied by staff.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 1995

Description Control

This collection was processed in 2015.

Benjamin E. Mays photographs
Felicia Render
October 2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center Repository

130 West Paces Ferry Road
Atlanta GA 30305