A Kansas University scholar will publish a new biography on a man whom civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. called his spiritual mentor.
Randal Jelks, associate professor of American studies at KU, has written “Benjamin Elijah Mays: Schoolmaster of the Movement,” which is scheduled for release in April by the University of North Carolina Press.
Mays, the child of former slaves, met King while Mays was serving as president of Morehouse College in Atlanta.
Jelks said King came to the college at age 15, and Mays took him under his wing.
“Your knowledge of American history would be impoverished if you didn’t know about someone like Benjamin Mays,” Jelks said.
Mays also was a scholar in his own right, publishing nine books, including an autobiography. He met Mohandas Gandhi in India and would become an advocate for nonviolent resistance during the civil rights movement.
In addition to King, several other graduates from Morehouse during Mays’ presidency became leaders, including Lerone Bennett, executive editor of Ebony magazine for 40 years; Maynard H. Jackson, the first black mayor of Atlanta; and Herman Cain, the former Republican presidential candidate and former Godfather’s Pizza executive.
Jelks said he had been aware of Mays since growing up in the South, and he decided to do a larger project on Mays after writing a paper on him years before as an undergraduate.
“You never know when what you’re going to do as an undergraduate will come back to you,” he said.
Jelks holds courtesy appointments in the departments of history and religious studies. He blogs at theblackbottom.com.