Benjamin E. Mays Portrait

The Divinity Student Association (DSA) gift of a commissioned portrait of Benjamin Mays, MA'25, PhD'35, and the Divinity School's 1949 Alumnus of the Year has taken its place on the east wall of the Common Room. The portrait was the 150th Anniversary Student Gift.

Dr. Mays (1894-1984) was the most prominent and influential black intellectual of his time, who sought to produce Christian ministers and community leaders committed to public service, social justice, racial equality and intellectual excellence. He received his MA (1925) and PhD (1935) from the Divinity School and indeed, is our Alumnus of the Year for 1949. He is best known outside Swift Hall as the mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Mays and King met in 1944 early in Mays’s 27-year service as President of Morehouse College and while King was still a teenager.

The portrait was unveiled at a reception held after the 2016 Alumnus of the Year Lecture, delivered by Peter Iver Kaufman. Student leaders from the Divinity Students Association and Alchemy in Color (a network created to serve and support underrepresented minority students) spoke, as did Robert Michael Franklin, Jr. (Alumnus of the Year 2010 and also a past president of Morehouse). 

"We call attention to Benjamin Elijah Mays during the Divinity School's 150th Anniversary Celebration in the spirit of this place that trains students to think and speak about religion in an informed, critical, and engaged manner. Benjamin Mays is not merely an exemplar of such, but like his mentors before him—many of whom are pictured in the Common Room—Mays has had a hand in building Swift Hall and molding it into the multifaceted, flourishing place that it is today. The Divinity School exists as an exceptional classroom, a research center, a roundtable, a living museum, and a symbol of democratic social change. The students, faculty, and administrators are all aware that we are just temporary residents here; we are renters, charged with the upkeep of a house of education that extends beyond our own lifetimes, and yet we offer a piece of ourselves to this place through our words, ideas, and publications. Benjamin Mays was no exception, and by commissioning his portrait, we—the students and alumni of Swift Hall—hope to honor his work inspiring non-violent democratic change in our country, rigorous discussions about race in our classrooms, and an indefatigable commitment to justice in our hearts."

You may read the entire text of the appeal at the DSA website. 

The portrait was painted by Chicago artist Michael Van Zeyl. Mr. Van Zeyl trained at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, Chicago’s Historic Palette & Chisel Academy and the Art Students League in New York. His work is  in many public and private collections, such as the United States District Court, DePaul University School of Law, Chicago Theological Seminary and American Hotel Register. He has received awards from the Portrait Society of America, The Artists Guild, the Oil Painters of America and is the 2014 recipient of the Dorothy Driehaus Mellin Fellowship for Midwestern Artists.

An exhibit at the Regenstein Library (4th Floor), celebrating Dr. Mays' relationship with the University of Chicago, is also available. The exhibit will run through July 31st, 2016, but the portrait will remain in the Common Room.

Click here to view photos from the unveiling (in Flickr).



photos: credit Michael Van Zeyl