I am writing this, as one who has a unique and personal experience with the naming of Springfield Elementary School and the overnight explosion of publicity and concern that escalated in the first three to four months of 1994. During that time I was employed with Greenwood County School District 50 as its Public Relations Specialist. While it would be dangerous for me to claim here that I remember every precise fact about what went down during that time frame, I do remember that shortly after the announcement was made that Springfield would be the name of the new elementary school, I as well as others in the administration and on the school board were bombarded with requests for comments.
The main questions centered on why and how could a new school be named after a cartoon character (Bart Simpson) who was controversial because he was disobedient and disrespectful to authority, adults including teachers and administrators, and his parents, especially his father, Homer. I don’t want to take up too much space here reliving and giving an account of all that happened back in 1994. However, I will say that I was interviewed not only by the Index-Journal but also a number of other print publications such as the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. There were also interviews with several major network and cable television stations. This sort of attention around the naming of Springfield was totally unexpected. If you would like to know more details about what happened and how the school was named, you can Google it. However, Matthew Hensley, assistant editor of the Index-Journal, wrote a very good and factual article about it on Jan. 29 that I suggest you read.
Not only did Matthew do a good job telling the story of what happened in 1994, he explained that there is a movement being supported by many in the community to rename the school after one of Greenwood County’s most famous native sons, Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, an internationally known educator, Christian preacher and mentor to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other key figures in the civil rights struggle. He also influenced men and women in business and politics including Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter. I do not have enough space to list all of the many and great accomplishments of a man who was born during one of America’s darkest periods. Born in 1894 he was the youngest of eight children of former slaves. He overcame many challenges to complete his education eventually earning a doctorate degree and later becoming the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Mays was blessed by the grace of God with much success and throughout his life, he always strived for excellence. I believe this is why a school in Greenwood County should be named after him. I believe that if more students and their families were exposed to how Dr. Mays rose from very humble and challenging conditions it would be an encouragement to them that they can make it as well!
As I prepare to close this message, let me share with you a few comments from Dr. Mays that should help us all:
“The tragedy in life doesn’t’ lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not a disaster to be unable to capture your ideal, but it is a disaster to have no ideal to capture. It is not a disgrace not to reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim is sin.”
“It is not your environment, it is you-the quality of your mind, the integrity of your soul and the determination of your will that will decide your future and shape your life.”
“Whatever you do, strive to do it so well that no man living and no man dead and no man yet to be born could do it any better.”
I pray that we all will embrace the life and teachings of Dr. Benjamin E. Mays and that Greenwood School District 50 and its Board of Trustees will move forward and name a school in his honor. Visit the Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Historic Preservation Site here in Greenwood at 229 N. Hospital St. to learn more about Dr. Mays and his amazing life.