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Joseph M. Benson, Sr. interview, 2022-12-03

Identifier: rwhc_ohp_2022_007.wav

Content Description

From the Collection:

Oral history interviews recorded by students in the Real World History class at Center for Inspired Teaching.


  • Creation: 2022-12-03


Biographical / Historical

Mr. Joseph M. Benson, Sr. was born on May 12, 1935, in Ridgeway/Longwood, South Carolina. Though he never had a birth certificate, his birthdate was recorded in the family bible. Mr. Benson’s mother, Reverend Mary Benson, was a pastor and baker, and his father, Moses Benson, Sr., was a truck driver. He was the second of his parents’ four children: Moses, Joseph, Jerry, and Willie. Mr. Benson’s two younger brothers Jerry (84) and Willie (83) both passed away in 2022. Mr. Benson’s parents believed that they had to get their children out of their small town for a better education, and Mr. Benson went to Mount Joshua for elementary school and attended middle school in Camden, SC. In 1952, at age 17, he moved to Washington, DC, and began attending Spingarn High School, which had just opened that year. When he first arrived in Washington, Benson lived in his uncle's house on Morse St. NE, but his parents later bought a house across the street. Mr. Benson went on to study ornamental plants at Longwood Gardens through the University of Delaware, earning an associate degree in horticulture. His background working as a farmer in South Carolina helped him get into the program. While studying at University of Delaware, he was taught by Dr. Ted Acorn and Dr. Patrick Nut. After college, Mr. Benson and his wife, Edna Lee Carthens-Benson, whom he had met as a teenager, returned to Washington and got an apartment at Edson Pl. NE. Together, they would have seven children: Gregory (1955), Joseph Jr. (1956), Vivian (1957), Cherlyn (1958), Edna-Lee (1959), Betty (1962), and Kevin (1963). On April 27th, 1960, he and his wife bought a home on A St. NE for all their children to live in. Mr. Benson and his wife never moved again after buying the family home. Mr. Benson worked many jobs over the years to support his family. After a short stint in the Hecht Company warehouse, Mr. Benson got a job at the National Arboretum, where he worked for 15 years. Through his work at the Arboretum, Mr. Benson was invited to the White House by Lady Bird Johnson to talk about roses. In addition to his job at the Arboretum, he worked a variety of side jobs for additional income: taxicab, lawn work, painting, etc. After leaving the Arboretum, he worked at the U.S. Soldier's home for 5 years. He also went on to work at the D.C. Department of Recreation, and he worked as a taxi/limousine driver later on in his career. His last job was being a Real estate agent before he retired. Outside of work, Mr. Benson was active in his community. After buying the family home on A St., he founded the homeowners’ association on his block and served as president from 1963 to 2012. He also was active in his church community at First Baptist Church, where he served as an usher. In 1974, Mr. Benson became an ICUA-certified [Interdenominational Church Ushers Association] usher, a credential that he would later allow him to usher Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural ball in 1984. Mr. Benson was also a part of a Mason Lodge for 12 years. Mrs. Carthens-Benson passed away in 2012, but Mr. Benson continues to live in the family home on A St. In his long life, Mr. Benson has seen the growth of 5 generations of his family


From the Collection: 27.1 Gigabytes (DIG_0029)

From the Collection: 228 Files (DIG_0029)

Language of Materials



In this oral history interview, Mr. Joseph Benson, Sr. discusses his life and experiences moving from Ridgeway/Longwood, South Carolina, to Washington, D.C. Mr. Benson begins the interview with a discussion of his early life in South Carolina. He recalls the physical conditions of his upbringing, discusses his early educational experiences, and shares memories about his family life. He also talks about segregation and race relations in the South. Mr. Benson then discusses his move to Washington, DC, in 1952 and how the family established a new life in the city. He talks about attending Spingarn High School and finding work, recounts how he met his wife, and discusses buying his home and raising his family in the District. Mr. Benson goes on to talk about studying horticulture at the University of Delaware at Longwood Gardens, the variety of jobs he worked to support his family, and his neighborhood in Kingman Park. Mr. Benson also reflects on advancements for the Black community in D.C. since the 1960s, Marion Barry’s time as mayor, the impact of the drug epidemic, and the rising cost of living in the city. Towards the end of the interview, Mr. Benson offers advice to younger generations of Black people in the District. Throughout the interview, Mr. Benson’s granddaughter, Treina, offers supporting information to Mr. Benson’s recollections and provides her own insight into topics of discussion. This oral history interview was conducted by a D.C. high school student as part of a class assignment on the Great Migration in Real World History.

Repository Details

Part of the The People's Archive, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library Repository

901 G Street NW
4th Floor East
Washington DC 20001