Widely regarded as one of the biggest influences on Martin Luther King, Jr., Benjamin Mays was president of Morehouse College when King was a student. The pair developed a very close friendship that lasted up until the day King died. As a young college student, King was struck by Mays' emphasis on dignity for all humans and the glaring gap between Democratic ideals and actual American social practices. Those became the two key components in King's message.
After stepping down as president of Morehouse College in 1967, Mays was elected as president of that Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education. During his tenure, he oversaw the peaceful desegregation of Atlanta's public school system. After passing in 1984, Mays' family began petitioning for Benjamin Mays to receive the highest honor of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.