Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays “Life Is Just A Minute”
Life is just a minute—only sixty seconds in it.
Forced upon you—can’t refuse it.
Didn’t seek it—didn’t choose it.
But it’s up to you to use it – you must suffer if you lose it.
Give an account if you abuse it.
Just a tiny, little minute,
But eternity is in it!
You perhaps have not heard of Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays? He was born on the first of August 1894, a black American minister, Civil Rights Activist, educator. Mays taught and mentored many influential activists: Martin Luther King Jr, Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, and Donn Clendenon, among others. His rhetoric and intellectual work focused on notions of nonviolence and civil resistance–beliefs inspired by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. The peak of his public influence occurred during his almost thirty years as the 6th President of Morehouse College, a historically black institution of higher learning.
When you read “life is just a minute” you can feel the rhetorical rhythm and application of an educated mind, in its simple but powerful use of language. I think you can feel Mays influence on Martin Luther Kings speeches. He was an Influencer
Gospel Singer and civil rights activist
Like Dr. Mays, you may not have heard of Mahalia Jackson, born on the 26th of October 1911. She is often referred to as The Queen of Gospel, with a powerful contralto voice. After her death in 1972, the New York times said she wss “one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist.” She was also a friend of Martin Luther King. She too was an influencer
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial August 28 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. gave his world famous speech. Now ranked as the top American speech of the 20th century.
King read from his prepared text for most of his speech, which relied on the Bible, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence — just as President John F. Kennedy had a few months earlier, when he called for civil rights legislation in a nationally televised address saying: “We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.”
As King neared the end, he came to a sentence that wasn’t quite right. He had planned to introduce his conclusion with a call to “go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction.” He skipped that, read a few more lines, and then improvised: “Go back to Mississippi; go back to Alabama; go back to South Carolina; go back to Georgia; go back to Louisiana; go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair”
Nearby, and off to one side, Mahalia Jackson shouted: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” She was speaking of several previous talks she had heard him share.
In a rhetorical style of Anaphora , ἀναφορά, “carrying back or reminding the listener of the main point, at the beginning of each section” Martin Luther King jr. improvised the remainder of his speech.
No one really remembers the first scripted part of the address on those steps, but most people can remember the theme and rhythm of the iconic words in the second part.
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today”
What if Dr. Mays had not seen a spark in young Martin and mentored him?
What is Martin Luther King Jr. had not prepared himself and took every opportunity to promote nonviolent civil disobedience to end segregation?
What if Mahilia Jackson had not cried out and prompted King on that day?
Each of these people played a part in the ending of segregation and oppression in America, but only King is really a household name.
So it is with the Gospel of Jesus Christ…
We each have a part to play in God’s plan, President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed this perfectly…
“Now, my brethren and sisters, in conclusion I wish to leave with you one thought which I hope you will never forget.
This church does not belong to its President. Its head is the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name each of us has taken upon ourselves. We are all in this great endeavor together. We are here to assist our Father in His work and His glory, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). Your obligation is as serious in your sphere of responsibility as is my obligation in my sphere. No calling in this church is small or of little consequence. All of us in the pursuit of our duty touch the lives of others. To each of us in our respective responsibilities the Lord has said: “Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5).
“And in doing these things thou wilt do the greatest good unto thy fellow beings, and wilt promote the glory of him who is your Lord” (D&C 81:4).”
What better way is there of Hastening the Lords Work, than playing our small part with a full commitment and ordinary diligence, knowing even in our seemingly insignificant role, we are all influencers