The late Dr. Benjamin E. Mays (1894-1984), president of Morehouse College during King’s student days and a valuable mentor for King, shared that King’s death was inevitable because, like Jesus, he was a troublemaker. “‘That was the chief trouble with Jesus: He was a troublemaker. So any time you are a troublemaker and you rebel against the wrongs and injustices of society and organize against that, then what may happen is inevitable.’”
Mays’ autobiography, Born to Rebel, published in 1971, includes the eulogy that was preached at King’s funeral on the campus of Morehouse. Mays said that preaching King’s eulogy was like eulogizing a “deceased son so close and so precious was he to me.” It was the desire of Mays that if he pre-deceased King, for King to deliver the eulogy. God’s providence made it so that Mays delivered the homily for King on the campus of Morehouse as King had requested.
King respected Mays as an educator, minister and orator. While at Morehouse, King would hear Mays speak in Sale Hall Chapel every Tuesday morning and became fascinated by his use of words and challenging the students to rise and become more than what they were, to be Morehouse Men, agents of change. It was also a dream of Dr. Mays that upon retirement, Dr. King would become the president of Morehouse College. Again, the providence of God had other plans for Martin Luther King, Jr.
Although he majored in sociology at Morehouse, King was influenced to respond to a call to ministry. He attended seminary at Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, and Boston University for Ph.D. studies. His first pastorate, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, was strongly encouraged and influenced by his father, Daddy King and Mays.
The relationship between the mentor (Mays) and mentee (King) was special. King often called upon Mays for advice and counsel. He looked to Mays for wisdom and forthrightness when dealing with controversial decisions. King respected Mays and Mays equally respected King.
When assessing the totality of King’s life, it must be understood that his spirit of activism and academic excellence was inspired, in large measure, by Mays. The goal of any good mentor is to influence the mentee.
Because of Mays’ influence upon King, this week we celebrate a national holiday in his honor. We remember his contributions to our nation and global community. Around the world this week, people will gather, overlap hands and sing, “We Shall Overcome.” It is my prayer that the anthem of the Movement becomes a genuine desire in the hearts of all human beings. Surely, it is the desire of the Lord that we live in peace and harmony with each other, seeking to make this world a “Beloved Community,” a place of God’s reign. Amen.