Buck and his Pops argued a lot before he left home.
His father wanted him to work. Buck had other things in mind.
That’s why he left home at sixteen…other things.
That’s why he did what he did when he was almost thirty…trespassing, theft of services, etc.
Buck knew what he wanted, and was not going to be stopped. You ever been there? You know what you want, Pops be damned.
Buck wanted an education, and to be a leader.
Benjamin “Buck Benny” Mays was born this week in 1894 in Ninety-Six, South Carolina. That’s not an address, that’s the name of the town. His parents were born slaves. They sharecropped the land in an era of segregation. His school only opened four months a year so the kids could work as tenant farmers with their families. And that’s where the fights with his father started.
His father wanted him to work the fields, but young Benjamin (he really didn’t get the name “Buck Benny” until he was in his forties) wanted to go to school. Going four months a year from first grade took him ten years to finish elementary school. If it took you a long time to finish school, it probably wasn’t because you were working on a farm.
He left home, ran away at 16…but not to the streets. He ran away to enroll in 7th grade so he could finish high school. Did you leave home? Bet it wasn’t to go to school.
But he wanted it, that education. Finished high school at 22. Went to college. Wanted to go to grad school so bad he got his boys who worked on a train to get him a waiter’s uniform (they were called Pullman Car Porters) and sneak him onto the train (trespassing) and pretend to be a waiter all the way to Chicago (theft of services), where he got off, and enrolled in the University of Chicago. I wonder how many charges a prosecutor would have hit him with, to get him to plead down? When I broke into a place, it wasn’t to go to school.
Ten years later, he was Dr. Mays. He went to Howard University as a dean, then became President of Morehouse College. In 1944, he lowered the age for admission to the college to get younger students in who wouldn’t be drafted, so he could keep the school open. He let in a 15 year old who hadn’t finished high school. You might have heard of him…Martin Luther King, Jr.. Mays found ways to get money to keep the school open. That’s why they called him “Buck Benny.” How’d you get your handle?
Mays advised King through the Civil Rights Movement, advised Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter, and gave the eulogy at King’s funeral. He became president of the Atlanta School Board. Wrote nine books. He wanted it.
Ran away from home. Finished elementary school at 16, high school at 22. Broke the law to go to school, not stay out of it. And changed the world.
You have a whole life ahead of you, no matter how hard the first part has been. Problems at home, run the streets, participation in an “alternative economy.” But you can write the rest of the story, and it can be positive if you want it bad enough. Ask Martin Luther King how a runaway changed his life.