Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays was an active opponent of segregation and an advocate of education. After attending the University of Chicago for his master's degree and doctorate, he served as dean of the Howard University School of Religion and as president of Morehouse College. He was also the first black president of the Atlanta school board.
"Benjamin Elijah Mays was born in 1895 in South Carolina, and graduated from Bates College in Maine in 1920. While obtaining his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Chicago, he was ordained into the Baptist ministry. He taught at Morehouse College and at South Carolina State College. From 1934 to 1940, he served as dean of the Howard University School of Religion and then moved on to the presidency of Morehouse College, a position he distinguished for the next quarter of a century. He also served his community well, becoming the first black president of the Atlanta school board.
He spoke early and often against segregation and for education. He received nearly thirty honorary doctorates and other honors and awards including election to the Schomburg Honor Roll of Race Relations, one of a dozen major leaders so honored. He had been a model for one of his Morehouse students, Martin Luther King, Jr., and he served the young minister as an unofficial senior advisor. He gave the eulogy at King's funeral. Among his books were the first sociological study of African-American religion, The Negro's Church, published in 1933; and The Negro's God, of 1938; Disturbed About Man, of 1969; and his autobiography Born to Rebel, of 1971. These books reveal a combination of sharp intellect with religious commitment and prophetic conviction."
The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) was founded partly to rectify the marked underrepresentation of minority students in academia. Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, headquartered in New York City, the Washington University Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship celebrates the life of the mind by funding original undergraduate research in the humanities and social sciences, with an emphasis on projects pertaining to identity, social justice, and diversity. The program encourages talented students to develop their academic interests to the fullest, obtain Ph.D.s, and pursue careers in higher education. Washington University joins 34 other colleges and universities as well as the 38 member institutions of the United Negro College Fund in this effort.