Historical site becomes 3rd S Carolina Literary Landmark
GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — From his pioneering work as a civil rights icon that landed him audiences with three presidents to his distinguished career as an educator and college president, Benjamin Mays’ vast influence as a 20th century thought leader has been well documented.
Yet far less attention has been given to Mays’ work as an author — despite penning nine books and more than 2,000 articles in his lifetime. But on Wednesday, that aspect of his legacy was front and center, with the dedication of the Mays Historical Site as just the third Literary Landmark in South Carolina.
The recognition puts Mays, a Ninety Six native, into the same company as Pat Conroy and James Dickey, and was timed to coincide with Mays’ 124th birthday.
“I’ve read a little bit of Dickey, I’ve those poems and ‘Deliverance,’ I’ve read a lot of Conroy, and I’ll put ‘Born to Rebel’ against any of them. That book is very inspiring,” Greenwood Mayor Welborn Adams said, referring to Mays’ groundbreaking 1971 autobiography.
Literary Landmarks are bestowed by states in partnership with the American Library Association, with more than 165 across the country.
Mays’ autobiography was referenced more than once as a vital piece of southern literature.
“In essence, the book recounts the inspiring story of how Benjamin Mays overcame the constraints of rural poverty and institutionalized segregation to rise to the heights of personal achievement and public influence,” said Tom Mack, chairman of the South Carolina Academy of Authors board. “The autobiography of Benjamin Mays, serves to remind all readers — some of whom may have lost faith in their dreams — of what one person can accomplish through education and personal enterprise. Dr. Mays is a great role model for all of us.”
Marlena White, president of the Board of Friends for South Carolina Libraries, said Wednesday’s ceremony fit squarely with Mays’ guiding principles.
“I can certainly imagine he was a great supporter of his local library. Dr. Mays believed in education and enrichment for all people, and libraries across South Carolina strive for the same,” she said.
That message was echoed by Leesa Aiken, director of the South Carolina State Library in Columbia.
“The courage and dedication that he exhibited is awe inspiring to me and inspirational to all of us, I’m sure,” she said. “We are just so honored to be a part of this event.”
Naming the Mays site as a literary landmark comes nearly a year after officials gathered at the same location to unveil a bronze statue in his honor.
Vernon Burton, a professor of history at Clemson University who wrote a foreword for revised editions of Mays’ autobiography, hailed him as a personal hero.
Burton, who is also from Ninety Six, said he never learned of Mays in his youth — an effect of the segregated society that existed at the time.
“I would argue Dr. Mays is the most important person to come out of South Carolina. It was not that the town fathers and mothers of Ninety Six were deliberately not recognizing Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, it was one of the tragedies of segregation,” he said.
Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com