More than three decades after Benjamin E. Mays’ death, there was no shortage of people whose lives he impacted at the unveiling of his statue Saturday in Greenwood, his hometown.
The life-sized statue of Mays shows him standing tall and stepping forward, holding a Bible under his arm.
It stands at the center of the Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site on North Hospital Road, just feet from Mays’ childhood home — a humble one-story house.
Joseph Patton, the CEO emeritus of GLEAMNS, said he hopes the likeness of Mays — a champion of Civil Rights who many regard as the intellectual conscience of the movement — contrasted with the image of his modest beginnings will help inspire young people who see it.
“As far as I’m concerned, there never would have been a Martin Luther King if it wasn’t for Mays,” Patton said. “And I’m just so happy because this will inspire a lot of young people. Mays came from that little house and walked to school and worked out in them fields. And for him to do what he did, some of these people right here can do better.”
At the unveiling Saturday, hundreds gathered at the site to hear from local leaders, Mays’ family, friends and students.
During the the more than three-hour ceremony, speakers reflected on Mays’ involvement in organizations such as the NAACP, his mentorship of Martin Luther King Jr. and his strong sense of faith, which guided him through life.
The Rev. Otis Moss, who studied at Morehouse College during part of Mays’ 27 years as college president, spoke to the crowd about what he learned from Mays’ mentorship.
“He was a prophet for freedom, an apostle for excellence,” Moss said.
Patton said he was happy to finally see the statue’s unveiling.
“This actually means to me that all of the work was worth it,” he said. “Because Mays was such a great man.”
The idea for the site originated with Patton not long after he started at GLEAMNS about 15 years ago and Loy Sartin came on as the site’s director to help get things off the ground.
Sartin, who recently retired as director but is still involved with the site, said the event was the culmination of a lot of hard work.
“It’s just a great thing,” he said. “We’ve worked so long, about six years, to raise the funds and everything for the statue. I was so concerned that we get the face correct and I think we got it really good. So I think it’s something we can really be proud of.”
Contact staff writer Conor Hughes at 864-943-2511 or on Twitter @IJConorHughes.