John Amasa May was born in Graniteville, near Aiken, South Carolina, in 1908. He graduated from Wofford College, attended Harvard Law School, and completed his legal education at the University of South Carolina in 1934. The very next year the young attorney was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. His career was interrupted by World War II. May spent five years in the army, rising to the rank of major, and in 1946 found himself on the team of prosecuting attorneys at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Returning home, May was re-elected to the S.C. House in 1948. He would represent Aiken for nearly two decades.
John May was fascinated by the history and personalities of the War for Southern Independence. He cherished his Confederate heritage, something that “grows brighter with each passing day to guide and inspire us.” May was the author or co-author of four books, including the classic South Carolina Secedes. A long-time member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Compatriot May served as division commander in 1960, and in 1964 was elected commander-in-chief of the SCV. In the legislature he headed up the Confederate War Centennial Commission.
Under John May’s leadership, the Confederate battle flag was hoisted to its place of honor atop the capitol dome in 1962. It remained there until a campaign of bigotry and ignorance, unprecedented in scope and intensity, brought it down thirty-eight years later.
On October 5, 1966 May spoke to Columbia’s Wade Hampton Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy:
“Today, more than ever before, we need the virtues of Robert E. Lee, the courage of Stonewall Jackson, the daring of Wade Hampton, the loyalty of our noble women, and the unselfish sacrifice of the men who wore the gray. Let us, as guardians of this noble trust, devote ourselves to the needs of America of our day— and strive for unity, for peace, and for brotherly love.”