Benjamin E. Mays Influence on Martin Luther King, Jr.

The most famous of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays’ former students was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. the greatest civil rights leader in American History and winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize for his leadership against racial oppression and injustice.

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Described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as his “spiritual mentor,” Benjamin Mays was a distinguished Atlanta educator who served as president of Morehouse College from 1940 to 1967 (Scott King, 249). While King was a student at Morehouse, the two men developed a relationship that continued until King’s death in 1968.

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Mays delivers the final eulogy for the slain Martin Luther King Jr. on April 9, 1968, at Morehouse College. Photograph courtesy of Howard University.

Mays gave the eulogy for King at an open-air service on the Morehouse campus. The memorial followed King’s funeral service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King had served as a co-pastor with his father. The crowd at Morehouse was estimated at more than 150,000 people, including King’s widow and children. The event was broadcast live on national radio and television. Mays was 70 years old at the time. He and King had made an agreement, he explained, that if one should die the other would give the homily at his funeral. Thus, the teacher spoke in memory of the student.

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