Benjamin Mays was born in Epworth, South Carolina, United States in 1894, and raised on an isolated cotton farm. The youngest of eight children. His parents were tenant farmers and former slaves.
At that time, the maximum school term for black children was only four months - November through February - so he and his brothers and sisters spent most of the year helping with the planting and picking.
"As a child my life was one of frustration and doubt, " he recalled in Born to Rebel. "Nor did the situation improve as I grew older. Long before I could visualize them, I knew within my body, my mind, and my spirit that I faced galling restrictions, seemingly insurmountable barriers, dangers and pitfalls. "