The educational thought of Benjamin Elijah Mays
Gaines, Robert William
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Benjamin Elijah Mays, most widely known as a former president of Morehouse College, was one of the foremost African American educators of the 20th century. Although an accomplished theologian and civil rights activist, Mays dedicated the greater part of his career to combating racial segregation and securing high quality educational opportunities for black students. Although Mays’s thinking on education has been a point of exploration in extant scholarship, a systematic and comprehensive study of his educational thought remains necessary. This study seeks to document and explain Mays’s educational thought, focusing primarily on his 60-year career as an educator, including his early years as an instructor at Morehouse College, his six-year tenure as the dean of school of theology at Howard University, his twenty-seven-year tenure as president of Morehouse, and his twelve-year tenure as a member of the Atlanta School Board. It elucidates the ways in which Mays’s upbringing in the Jim Crow South, and his perception of Christianity, democracy, and social responsibility shaped his thinking on education. This study employs historical research methods as a means to contextualize Mays’s life experiences and their influence on his educational thinking, as well as a way to situate his publications and speeches in the larger educational and historical discourses of his time. Further, it explores the legacy of May’s educational thinking and its implications for current educational practice. The meaning of Mays’s views on education in today’s educational landscape transcends the current obsession with standardized testing and highlights the imperative of holistic educational practice, the importance of balancing intellect and character.