Martin Luther King Jr. with Benjamin Mays, the Bates College or university graduate and Morehouse University president whom King deemed his spiritual mentor and intellectual tutorial. Courtesy Bates College

With the method of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and as the country continues to reexamine its troubled file on race, an incident in Lewiston additional than 75 several years back affirms that the roots of racial problems stretch deep and have been never just a Southern issue.

The incident transpired in 1945 when Bates Faculty graduate Benjamin Elijah Mays desired to have a meal in the city’s leading restaurant.

Mays, a civil legal rights activist and the president of Morehouse Higher education who afterwards gave the eulogy at the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, was now a perfectly-known determine as Earth War II neared its end.

About 750 persons gathered on March 18, 1945, to listen to him discuss at the now-demolished United Baptist Church on Primary Avenue for a gathering termed the College of Lifestyle.

Mays advised these in attendance they could decide on 3 paths in the world: the low street taken by sinners, the center a single picked by common folks and the high street that captivated saints. He urged youthful people to decide on the latter “because the globe moves forward on the ft of saints.”

Mays’ eloquence and authority earned the regard of lots of, like King, who later referred to him as “my non secular mentor and my intellectual father.”

However irrespective of his renown, and his shut ties to Bates, the only thing about Mays that mattered to some in Lewiston in 1945 was the darkness of his skin.

While segregation had no lawful standing in Maine, Jim Crow was alive and perfectly when the downtown DeWitt Lodge, a beloved eating location a stone’s toss from Town Hall, instructed Mays he could not eat in the eating home with other patrons because of his race.

A postcard exhibits the DeWitt Resort, which after stood on the corner of Park and Pine streets in Lewiston. Robert R Bedard Postcard Assortment

For nicely in excess of a century, the 5-tale brick DeWitt Lodge, which stood involving the Lewiston Evening Journal’s business and what arrived to be known as Kennedy Park, was the city’s greatest.

Its eating home, on the second flooring, “was observed not only for its very good meals, but also for its outstanding assistance and hospitality,” the Journal reported soon immediately after the lodge fell to the wrecking ball in the mid-1960s.

“Family dinners gave the area a most enjoyable air” on huge instances, the paper additional.

As explained in newspapers in 1945, organizers of the University of Everyday living sought to maintain a evening meal social gathering in the main dining area at the DeWitt that would include Mays amid the guests.

Dr. Percy L. Vernon, the church’s minister and host for the College of Daily life, asked the lodge supervisor in the course of a Rotary Club meeting a number of times beforehand regardless of whether there would be a difficulty with Mays’ inclusion at the Sunday evening meal.

The supervisor, Allen Browne, responded that it would be a mistake to allow for Mays to try to eat in the community eating area. Browne explained to the Bates scholar newspaper he apprehensive about what could materialize if he reported certainly.

Browne stated that a couple of yrs previously, some Bates professors and African American guests experienced eaten in the principal dining corridor at the resort, triggering various Lewiston and Auburn gals to go away the place in a huff, refusing to pay for the foods they had purchased.

The eating room at the DeWitt Resort in Lewiston, depicted in a mid-20th century postcard. Private assortment

The manager reported the site visitors at the time were being “extremely embarrassed” and he desired to protect against a recurrence.

Browne supplied to seat the church party in a non-public area at no additional charge, but Vernon turned him down. They went to an additional establishment alternatively.

Browne claimed he assumed that absolutely everyone associated still left the make any difference on helpful conditions.

But the future working day, the Journal criticized the hotel for turning Mays away.

“We have faith in Lewiston people and know they generally disapprove of acts which smack of race prejudice,” the paper explained. It urged these associated “to clear the city’s title of any probable charge of inhospitality to these types of a distinguished gentleman as Dr. Mays.”

The episode spurred a small kerfuffle in city, with some criticizing the hotel and some defending it, just before the total episode light absent.

The Christian Affiliation at Bates, just one of the premier student groups then, as very well as some faculty administrators and school, said they would not patronize the DeWitt if it continued to discriminate.

Browne instructed the college student paper that he experienced also listened to from “several ladies” who phoned to convey to him they were being happy Mays experienced not been served or they would by no means have eaten at the resort once again.

Asked immediately about the DeWitt’s coverage, Browne answered, “As quickly as the persons in city will acknowledge and entertain Negroes in their individual homes, the hotel will just take them in.”

Benjamin Mays Courtesy the Thea Bowman AHANA and Intercultural Heart, Boston College or university

Moments have modified and so has Lewiston. Today, the DeWitt is extended gone. Even the now-vacant building that took its place, which started off as a lender and then for decades housed some Sunshine Journal operations, is very likely to deal with demolition soon if revitalization options to construct new housing go forward.

If Mays ever mentioned the incident, his terms are overlooked.

In his autobiography, although, he stated that escalating up in South Carolina he seasoned a “depressing, terrifying” form of segregation, but in the North he also found prejudice, in some cases “just as moi-wounding, just as embarrassing.”

Mays also mentioned that inns and restaurants in northern metropolitan areas would on event refuse to serve him.

Mays, born in rural South Carolina, graduated from Bates in 1920 and never ever forgot the formative purpose it played in his everyday living, which included remaining a pastor, a professor, the founding dean of the College of Religion at Howard College, head of the Atlanta Board of Training and regarded as a person of the most influential people today in American history. He frequently frequented Bates University and afterwards served as 1 of its trustees.

Benjamin E. Mays, center, back again row, poses with a 1919 Bates University debate staff. Muskie Archives and Particular Collections Library

As a student at Bates, Mays recounted, he knowledgeable freezing winters but minimal prejudice.

“There had been only a couple of Negroes in the whole state of Maine,” Mays wrote yrs later, “and in the modest cities and rural areas a Negro was a authentic curiosity.”

Even in Lewiston, Mays recounted, there were less than 50 African People in america.

Amongst the work opportunities he held all through his student days was one particular washing dishes at “a cafe in downtown Lewiston.”

It might have been the DeWitt, just one of the several in those people times fast paced plenty of to have to have to hire dishwashers from between the pupils at Bates.

Mays’ time at Bates changed his lifetime.

He did so well at the university, he claimed, that he “finally dismissed from my thoughts for all time the fantasy of the inherent inferiority of all Negroes and the inherent superiority of all whites,” notions taken as a subject of system in his native South Carolina.

“Bates School did not ‘emancipate’ me,” Mays wrote in his autobiography. “It did the significantly larger service of creating it possible for me to emancipate myself, to acknowledge with dignity my have worthy of as a no cost gentleman. Little speculate that I appreciate Bates School!”

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