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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Hylan Lewis, January 13, 1991. Interview A-0361. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Description of Benjamin Mays

Lewis describes Benjamin Mays, African American minister and president of Morehouse College. Mays skillfully used his pulpit to advance secular issues, though he was not an intellectual light.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Hylan Lewis, January 13, 1991. Interview A-0361. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JOHN EGERTON:
What about Benjamin Mays? Give me a picture of him.
HYLAN LEWIS:
Benjamin Mays had a great quality of, I begin to use a kind of quiet eloquence and presentation of wisdom which he combined for his method of leadership. I think of Benny Mays, his wife Sadie, who was very important. If you think of people like Johnson, Mays, and Frazier you don't get the full picture of them unless you also get some sense of what their wives meant and the interaction with their wives.
JOHN EGERTON:
What was Johnson's wife's name?
HYLAN LEWIS:
Marie. Mays, I think he polished the practice and presentation of the minister-leader-educator in the way that he was inspired. He gave a secular tinge to his calling without at the same time making it egregious and obvious. For example, you think of Hancock as a minister, but Mays you don't think of that although he is a Baptist preacher out of South Carolina. When I think and I use the word honed, he honed his personal skills and presentation and presence in a way that was extremely important.
JOHN EGERTON:
Definitely a member of the pantheon here as far as you are concerned of black leaders of that time, or not?
HYLAN LEWIS:
Yes, a black leader figure of influence and respect. He wrote to the servants. I knew Mays quite well. He was at the University of Chicago when I was there and I knew him when he was getting his degree.
JOHN EGERTON:
Was he a difficult man?
HYLAN LEWIS:
Not difficult. Mays, I use the word hone, Mays practiced being Mays. I don't mean to be harsh or hyperbolic in saying that. I think that without the support of his wife, Sadie, Mays was not that good of a writer. His intellectual abilities are not that . . .
JOHN EGERTON:
Whereas Johnson had these . . .
HYLAN LEWIS:
Charles Johnson was far out.
JOHN EGERTON:
He wrote a document in Durham over night.
HYLAN LEWIS:
Mays, this is not to diminish him at all, he honed the skills that he had. Mays was one of the first persons ever that later on spoke of himself as dirt. Charles Johnson would never say that. [laughter] Again, this is not to diminish Mays.