Keywords: Dorothy Davis; Julia Benford
Subjects: African Americans--Families
Map Coordinates: 29.386, -94.976
Keywords: AFL-CIO; Clergy; College of the Mainland; Community; Emmett Lowry; Jack Brooks; Johnnie Henderson; Voting
Subjects: African Americans--Civil rights--Texas; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Employment; African Americans--Political activity; African Americans--Religion; Labor unions; Martin Luther King, Jr.
Keywords: CAC; Central Day Care; Civil Rights Act; Community Action Council; Day care; Federal Grant; Kempners; La Marque High School; Lincoln High School; Mary Crowder; Nora Thompson; Professor Calhoun; Rising Star Baptist Church; Ruth Shannon Hicks; The Right's of the Poor
Subjects: Head Start programs
Keywords: Andrews Street; Black Ministers Union; Bob Baxter; Booker T. Washington School; Dr. Green; Dr. Tinney; Drug Stores; Iva Turner; James Daniels; Johnnie Henderson; La Marque Colored School; La Marque High School; Lake Road; Marie Moore; Mascots; Norm Bulaich; P. S. Simms; Prairie View A&M College; Presbyterian Church; Ralph Allen; Rosa Jones; T. J. Jackson; Texas City High School; Theaters
Subjects: African Americans--Education--Texas; African Americans--Religion; African Americans--Segregation; Race discrimination--Texas; School integration
Keywords: Arla Rochell; Coca-Cola Bottling Company; D. N. Benford, Jr.; Football; Harvard University; Juletta Wright; La marque High School; Michelle Benford; Rice University; The Houston Post; Thomas Nathaniel Benford; Toni Benford; Yolanda Benford
Subjects: African Americans--Families; African Americans--Marriage; African Americans--Religion
MAYFIELD: My name is Theresa Mayfield, and I am the local history librarian fromMoore Memorial Public Library in Texas City, Texas. We are conducting an interview for our oral history project entitled The African American Experience Texas City. Today we are talking to Reverend D. N. Benford of the Rising Star Baptist Church to learn more about him, and to discuss events that took place between the years 1950 and 1970. However, due to Covid-19 restraints, we are conducting and recording this interview over the telephone. I am currently in the meeting room at Moore Memorial Public Library in Texas City, Texas and Reverend Benford will be speaking from the Rising Star Baptist Church in Texas City. Today is Friday, September 25, 2020.
Thank you Reverend Benford for taking part in our African American Experience -Texas City, Oral History Project.
BENFORD: Thank you.
MAYFIELD: So Reverend Benford, when and where were you born?
BENFORD: I was born in Kemp Texas, K-e-m-p, Kemp Texas, and that's in Kaufman County.
BENFORD: K-a-u-f, Kaufman.
MAYFIELD: Okay, and what year were you born?
BENFORD: On March 12, 1930.
MAYFIELD: What are the names of your parents?
BENFORD: My mother's name is Mary Benford. My grandmother's mother's name wasSeeny Stonewall.
MAYFIELD: Your grandmother's name was Seeny?
BENFORD: Seeny Stovall
MAYFIELD: Can you spell the last name?
BENFORD: S-t-o-v-a-l-l, Stovall
MAYFIELD: Ok. Where was your family originally from?
BENFORD: We were from--, Bremond, Texas.00:02:00
MAYFIELD: Bremond Texas?
BENFORD: Yeah, Bremond, Texas.
MAYFIELD: Ok. What do you know about your family background?
BENFORD: My grandmother was a Choctaw Indian and she was a little short ladywith bowed legs (laughs). She had hair down to her knees. And I really don't know much about how she got over into the Black culture, maybe she had a Black husband, and all. And of course, until he passed away. But she did, at one time, own a thirty-acre farm in Bremond. And this was all back in the twenties I suppose. And of course, when the Panic came, the Depression, everybody was hard pressed, you know, for living and she ultimately lost that place because of taxes and things.
In the meantime, sharecropping was a big deal with Blacks and a lot of some ofthe big white farms and negroes moved on these farms, and they would give them forty acres of land to work. And they would do it on shares-- like three shares, some were four. And those shares mean that every fourth one you got or every third one you got it, and the other ones went to the owner. Cotton, if you got three bales of cotton every third bale would be yours. If you were in on fourths, quarters, every fourth bale would be yours. And that was a way of life for many, many, many, many Black folk who understood that agriculture world good and helps that kind of work. And we had to resort to that. It seems 00:04:00that at one time we might have lived pretty good, but at the Depression, there was no money and Blacks were at the bottom of the totem pole when it came to finance. The only work that Blacks had to do was what white --of what white people allowed them to do. And because that was generally, you know, in the fieldwork, clean-up work, and things like that. We lived off of what they called a meager fare (laughs). And that's scraping the bottom of the barrel, you know, to make it. And of course, there were a lot of displaced people, white and Black. And of course, we worked for, we worked as sharecroppers. And as a sharecropper, the owner had one great, one huge store. He would carry everything that ever a family would need. And of course, the people who worked the sharecroppers were allowed credit. And they would pay us like it. If my family got something, they would write it down. And you could get anything you wanted, all on credit. And after you had summarized your harvest for the year, they would take out the expenses and whatever was left would be yours. Oh, and of course, the big trick of this was that the sharecroppers could never, you know, get above what they'd spent. It took all the expense and what we would spend between this year and next year's settling time, generally overrode what we made as they saw it. And you know you could never have anything of your 00:06:00own. You always be a little bit in debt each year. And of course, that was the gimmick of that and stuff like that. And everybody that was a sharecropper, they worked hard to try to earn enough to pay off what they consumed already and have some money left. And that just wasn't going to be. Because even though sometimes we kept records ourselves of what we got, their books never would agree with ours. Not their books. And uh, -- it was always stress on the sharecropper. And because the only relief we got was like it got in the fall of the year, sometimes they would leave cotton in the field, and we could go out and do what they called scrap cotton. And sometimes in scrapping cotton, you could almost, --a family could get a bale of cotton, just scrapping cotton. And of course, they'd let you have that for Christmas.
MAYFIELD: Did they do that on purpose? Like that.
BENFORD: Yeah, yeah, they would do that. They would do that. You, --we wouldn'tmake any money for the year's work, but they would leave some in the field for you to scrap so you could have a nice Christmas. You had to go back in the fields, and it would be a lot of cotton sometime left in the fields. And they did it on purpose, so you could make some money for yourself and your family. Whatever, --whatever amount of cotton you got, a bale, or less than a bale, you had that money to spend for yourself.
MAYFIELD: Did you have any siblings growing up?
BENFORD: Yeah, I had two brothers. I had two brothers. I'm the middle boy. I hadan older brother and I had big ol' baby brother. 00:08:00
MAYFIELD: What were their names?
BENFORD: My oldest brother was named, W. D. Benford. And my youngest brother wasnamed Rufus, R-u-f-u-s Benford. And my name is Doris Nathaniel Benford.
MAYFIELD: Doris Nathaniel Benford, okay.
BENFORD: Seems like they got my initials D and N Benford. But we were very,very small, in those days, and there was little, there was little we could do in the fields. We could go in the fields and help our parents fill the cotton sacks. I'd just take a small sack and go out and get cotton and bring it back to them and all that. Then of course, when, as you grew larger, they would make you a small sack for your age and you would go out and you could pull your own sack. The sack went across your shoulder, and you pulled it. You drug it. And of course, the older you got, the larger your sack would get and all that. And so, we had little cotton sacks of our own and we would go out and pick cotton and bring it back and put it in our mother's sack and our grandmother's sack. And when they would go to weigh the cotton up, well, it was weighed with that, along with that.
MAYFIELD: Are your brothers still alive?
BENFORD: Both my brothers passed away. My youngest brother died first. And myoldest brother died two years ago. They passed away. My oldest brother was ninety-two and my youngest brother was, -- if he had been living, he would have been eighty-eight. Oh, I'm ninety. We're all two years apart.
MAYFIELD: What other relatives did you live with, other than your mother.
BENFORD: Okay, I lived with, uh, I had, my, there was three in my00:10:00mother's family. There was two girls and one boy. And of course, an uncle, we called him Uncle Jesse. And I had one aunty, her name was Annie Lee. There were three of them. And then my grandmother and we all kind of lived together at first.
MAYFIELD: And you said your grandmother had long hair. Can you--
BENFORD: Yeah, my grandmother's hair was down to her knees.
MAYFIELD: --what was your grandmother's ethnicity?
BENFORD: She married a colored. She was Choctaw Indian.
BENFORD: Yeah, Choctaw Indian. That's right.
BENFORD: And now, she had, she had [very color?] and she was bow legged. It waskind of funny to think about it. My mother was just like her, and she was bow legged like those Indians are and she had hair down to her knees.
MAYFIELD: Oh, ok. So, let's talk a little bit about your current family. Wereyou married?
BENFORD: Yes. Um, I married in 1952.
MAYFIELD: Ok, and what was the name of your wife?
BENFORD: My first wife was named Dorothy. Her name was Dorothy Davis. I marriedbefore I came to Texas City. I came to Texas City; I came in 1950.
MAYFIELD: You came to Texas City in 1950?
BENFORD: Yes, I came here to pastor this church in 1950.
MAYFIELD: And so, was Doris with you in 1950?
BENFORD: No, I married here. She was a local girl.
MAYFIELD: Oh, okay.
BENFORD: And it was Dorothy.
MAYFIELD: Oh, Dorothy.
BENFORD: Dorothy Davis.
MAYFIELD: Dorothy Davis, okay.
BENFORD: Yeah, when I came here, I was single.
BENFORD: And that was most unusual because the church didn't call single men.00:12:00But I was called here.
MAYFIELD: But you were called here?
BENFORD: I was twenty years old, and I was single.
MAYFIELD: How long were you married to Dorothy?
BENFORD: We were married five years.
MAYFIELD: And did she pass away, or--
BENFORD: No, we separated.
BENFORD: We separated.
MAYFIELD: Okay. And how did you meet your current wife?
BENFORD: I was, uh, I came in 1950 as the pastor and this church was a real goodchurch for, you know, for the Black community. And it was well-known. And these people here were, they were go-getters and all. So, the church was real nice and I was invited to a lot of places to preach. I would preach all down in Brazoria, Angleton, and places like that. And um, Wharton, and my first wife, my second wife, rather, she's live in Angleton, Texas, and she was a girl piano player. She was a musician. And of course, that was very, very necessary in our community. So, she played for churches, her dad was principal of this school in Angleton. As a matter of fact, I think they named the school after him after he passed away, T. J. Wright, Sr. And I went to, --I used to go to a church called Bethel Church in Angleton and I used to preach. And she would come, and she would play for the church and for the community. That's when I saw her, but I didn't say anything. I just saw her and all that. Then later on, I did quite a bit of preaching at revivals and things like that and I would see her 00:14:00occasionally. And she played for churches and all and she was a high school girl. And later on, when she finished school, and she went to a college called Bishop College in Marshall, Texas. And of course, I did quite a bit of traveling: conventions, associations, and things like that. I didn't see her for maybe three or four years, maybe longer. And of course, one day I was in Houston at what we call an Association, that's a gathering of churches, for an annual meeting. And we were in the Fifth Ward, and I think they called them the Wright Cuney Apartments or something like that.
MAYFIELD: Likenly Apartments?
BENFORD: Hmm? Yeah, the Wright, I think they called them, the Wright CuneyApartments. It was a great big apartment complex. And I was in the, I was in the complex for a luncheon and somehow or another (laughs) they had to borrow some chairs from one of their neighbors in the apartment complex. And I went to help bring the chairs back. And so, when I went there, well, they was doing kind of like a Christmas holiday, and she was home from college, and she was there visiting one of her classmates. And of course, I saw her, and I recognized her, and she recognized me, and we just spoke. And she told me where she was going to school. And of course, I didn't see her any more for a long time. She still lived in Angleton. That was her home. Her daddy was principal of a school in Angleton. It was called Marshall High School.
MAYFIELD: What year was this?
BENFORD: Boy, it had to be in the early fifties. It had to be in the earlyfifties because we got married in fifty- seven, December twelfth, 00:16:00fifty-seven. And so then, this had to be in kind of like in, fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four. Because I stayed married to my first wife for five years, and then I was single. I had two children with my first wife. And so, I kept up with them, and took care of them. (Engine sound). And, ah so one day an old lady in Angleton, she was like a mother for the whole community. Well, everybody called her Aunty Lily. And she was everybody's, everybody looked upon her as a paternal mother. And she was very, very kind and she loved preachers. And she knew me real well. And I heard that she, that she had cancer. And everybody was hurt because she was a member of our district association. And all of the pastors had kind of come up under her and so they told me she was ill and I wanted to go see her. So, one day I chose, --I left La Marque, and I went to see her. And she was getting feeble and all. And we talked. And she was very, very happy that I had come to see her. And uh, and of course we kind of said, like, our farewells. And I tried to give her an offering just to aid her because she was, she had always been maybe, like a house worker. And of course, there was no kind of income for people like that. And I knew she had to live, and so I tried to give her some money just to make life comfortable for her. And she would not let me give it to her. She told me she was going to give me some money. (Mayfield laughs). Because she wanted me to be successful as a 00:18:00pastor. And that really, really, -- it just (laughs), it kind of untied my moral system. But when I saw that she was so sincere and she was going to be hurt if I didn't take it, I accepted it as an act of kindness because she wanted to do this for me. And so, she had some money in a tobacco sack. Back in those days they used to roll their own cigarettes, Bull Durham and all that. And she had a tobacco sack, and she had her money in the sack. And so, she went in there, took out some dollars. And so, I was going to pray with her, and she said, "No, I'm going to pray for you." And I understood her being a seasoned Christian and all that, so I let her pray for me. And instead of me praying for her like a pastor would normally do. And so, we did all that. I didn't want to leave her with any unhappiness. And when I got ready to leave, she remembered that (laughs) the girl that I later married was in town. She taught school in Bay City. And so, she told me she was in town, and she begged me to please just go by and speak to her. She hadn't seen me in several years. And so, the house that she lived in was about maybe a half of a block from where Aunt Lily lived. And it was kind of a--
MAYFIELD: Where who lived?
BENFORD: This old lady that I went to see.
MAYFIELD: Lily, okay.
BENFORD: Yeah, her name was Lily Williams, but everybody called her Aunt Lily.Aunt Lily. And uh, and plus my wife had always worked for her as a girl. And of course, some of the people that she used to work for when she got older, my wife worked for those people. And so, she was kind of a household 00:20:00---------(?)(?). And Aunty Lily didn't have any children. As a matter of fact, she was a loner with nobody with her and all that. But she wanted me to go by just speak to Julia, --my wife's name was Julia. And I promised her that I would, (laughs) but I really didn't mean to do that because I didn't know the family. And that everybody knew me, but I didn't know them. And of course, I just didn't want to get involved in nothing like that. And so, when I left her house, she couldn't see me and so I went straight by the house that Julia lived in. And --but I didn't stop. I just turned left and came back to the main road to get back to Texas City. And so, (laughs) after I pulled, after I go on about maybe a half of a block, I looked down the road and I saw three people. And I knew it was her. She was tall. And uh, "Is that Julia there"? And she was on her way to town. And of course, back in those days, you walked. And the roads were dusty. They wasn't paved, nothing like that, blacktop. So, I slowed down. I didn't want to put no dust on them. So, I slowed my car down real low, low speed so it wouldn't put dust on them when I went by them. But by me slowing down, uh, and driving slow, that gave them a chance to look at me and recognize me. And of course, when she looked and saw me, she recognized me too. So, I just kind of came to a grinding halt. And she came over and she spoke. And we had a little chat. She told me where she teach. Where she was working. And she was walking with two of her cousins from New York. And of course, they were down visiting the family. And so, I just got her phone number. As a look. I didn't 00:22:00want to hold her up or nothing like that. And so, I got her phone number, and I promised I was going to call her. And I did call her that night. And we had a chance to talk and see what was going on.
MAYFIELD: So, you gave her a call?
BENFORD: Yeah, I gave her a call that night because I hadn't seen her in maybethree or four years. And she gave me a little history of herself. She had finished Bishop College. And she was working in Bay City, Texas as a schoolteacher and all. And she was single and all that. And uh so, then we start talking. And I explained to her that I had had a marriage and that it had kind of fallen through the cracks. And that I was single. And of course, back in those days, people tried their very best to always, always match a preacher with a musician so she could help out with church work. But that wasn't, that wasn't our situation. We just met and we started talking.
MAYFIELD: Okay. And what year did you get married?
BENFORD: I got married December 12, 1957.
MAYFIELD: Nineteen fifty-seven?
BENFORD: Yes, ma'am.
MAYFIELD: Alright, well, I'm actually going to go back a little bit, if it's, okay?
MAYFIELD: So, you were in Texas City in 1950 and you were the preacher, but canyou tell me how and what years you became involved in the church?
BENFORD: Well, I became involved in the church in the year of 1950. In the sameyear. I was a boy preacher. I started preaching when I was fourteen years old. And I guess I must have been kind of brilliant and all that kind of stuff. And I started preaching in Vernon, Texas, December 25th, 1944. And then, 00:24:00the next year, I moved to Beaumont with my pastor. And then they ordained me for a church at the age of fifteen, which is unheard of. And I had to be ordained like any other preacher. And they called me to the West Beulah Baptist Church in Beaumont.
MAYFIELD: What year was this?
BENFORD: Uh, in 1950--, let me see, let me see, 1950, no, no. That was 1945.
BENFORD: I started preaching at fourteen in '44. And then in '45, when I wasfifteen, they called me to pastor a church in Beaumont, Texas.
MAYFIELD: And so, you started your profession when you were fourteen?
BENFORD: Yes, ma'am. I preached my first sermon, December 25th, Christmas Day in 1944.
MAYFIELD: But what was your influence? Was there a certain person who influenced you?
BENFORD: Yeah, I was called to preach. God called me to preach. I was called topreach by God.
MAYFIELD: And so, there was no person that you, um--
BENFORD: No, no, no, no, no.
BENFORD: I was just a, you know, a little teenager. Um, cutting up and carryingon, and things like that, and having a good time. And for the manner of the age that we lived in, and because the war was going on and all that kind of stuff, you know. I belonged to a real good Black Baptist church. Because we had limitations, you know, of what they could do. They did all they could to advance us and give us a sense of citizenship and things like that. And there 00:26:00were limitations on what Blacks could do. There were no civil rights. And of course, we all pat ourselves and make a living under the Jim Crow system in America. And most of us understood that. But my parents were unusual parents, and they didn't accept Jim Crow. And they kept telling all, everybody in my family, at the bottom way it was coming to the top. And even though we were suppressed and stuff like that, that someday was going to be better. And our best defense was a good education. And my mother visioned, and I don't know how she did it. But she envisioned us. My grandmother did too. So, you must get an education. Because it's not going to be like this always. They foresaw that the time would come when Blacks would gain freedom and opportunity that they didn't have. And so, they wouldn't let us join the workforce of negroes. They always kind of kept us out of that. And uh, most Black homes with Black children were good as farmhands and field work. And they let us work in the field for a while. But when school started, we couldn't go to the fields. We had to go to school. And of course, sometimes, there'd just be three or four kids in school. And the rest of them would, you know, they working till the crops were out. But we couldn't do that.
MAYFIELD: What did your school look like?
BENFORD: It was a typical Black school. It was brick. And it was, --it had a fewthings in it. It had a stage for performances. And they did have a cafeteria, but they never used it and all. And then classrooms and restrooms. And in West Texas, it's very, very cold. And so, we used what they call steam 00:28:00heat. The stove is kind of like a radiator and it would have water in it and it would, it would generate heat. And it wasn't no--. (Laughs) It was just a typical Black school. And of course, we got used stuff, we never got new books. We always got the books that the white kids used. And then they would give them to us. And uh, sometimes, four or five kids had the book before you got it, because they had a little slot in there for you to sign your name when you got it. And of course, everything we got was what they'd used the year before. We, --when it came to sports and all, uh we didn't get football ----------(?(?). They just took all the football toys the white boys had used the year before. They put them in a big truck, and they'd bring them and dump them in front of the school. And you had to go and find you some shoes and whatever you needed. And you had to get your own jersey and stuff like that. We got what was left over and all. And um--
MAYFIELD: Did you play sports when you were in school?
BENFORD: On a minor scale, I didn't get too far. I did, --I was on a footballteam. But the same year that I--. I think, like I played one year. But I wasn't a starter because I was thirteen. When I was fourteen, I got to play, do more playing, but the same time, that's the year I answered my call to preach. And so, when I did that, then I left learning. So, I never got a chance to really, --and I like basketball, but football was really my sport and all. But I was small, and those guys were huge back in them days. My big job was to stay out of their way.
MAYFIELD: So back here in Texas City, so in 1950, you came to Texas00:30:00City. Ah, where did you live?
BENFORD: Actually, when I started preaching, I came to Conroe, Texas. And therewas a seminary school where they trained preachers.
MAYFIELD: And what was its name?
BENFORD: Conroe Normal Industrial College.
BENFORD: They taught theology, that's a science where God's reign is universe.And they also taught trades. But the seminary was the main part of the school.
MAYFIELD: Okay. So, that's where you learned more theology and sort of the--
BENFORD: --that's all I said. I had to complete my high school work and study theology.
MAYFIELD: Okay. So, you did both at the same time--
BENFORD: --when I first went there, I took sixteen hours a day. I had tocomplete my high school work. They let me come. And because they had a high school department there too. And I uh, so, I did them both. I don't know how I did it, but I carried sixteen hours a day for a couple of years until I finished high school.
MAYFIELD: So, it took two years to finish high school then?
BENFORD: Well, yeah. They'd uh, I was pretty smart in the books, and theyadvanced me, and advanced me, and they let me travel to my place. So, in two years, I was able to complete my high school work.
MAYFIELD: So, you finish the seminary. What year did you finish seminary?
BENFORD: I finished seminary in nineteen and fifty, no, no, let's see, nineteenand forty--nine.
MAYFIELD: Nineteen forty-nine. And then where did you go after seminary?
BENFORD: I didn't go anywhere else. The seminary I attended was kind of, it wasan unusual seminary. And they had the same curriculum that they had in Moody Institute in Chicago. The man, the president of that college, Conroe 00:32:00College, he was an African and they were very, very brilliant people. And so he brought the same curriculum from Chicago University there to Conroe and that's what he taught us, as Blacks.
BENFORD: And of course, uh they had a breakdown when you first went the firsttwo years, they'd get you ready for the heavy stuff. And uh, and they took, --they didn't turn any students down. Uh, they accepted me in, and I didn't finish high school and stuff like that. And they would take the boys and girls who, able, and they would let them bring them up to the standards. So, they could get to the seminary work, the main work. And by then, and I'm not trying to brag, but I was real smart. And I caught on there real quick. And I became an instructor for ministers who had not completed fifth grade, sixth grade or a thing like that. And my job was to get them ready for seminary work and give them the basics. And of course, there was strong emphasis upon English. You know, speaking and the proper use of English and all that. And because at the time, English was not a need for Black folk. I mean, very few Black folk had jobs where they would even watch their English, so to speak. You could just say anything, this, that and the other. It just didn't matter. But as a preacher, they made us understand that we had to use the very best of English. And the whole school was geared upon the improvement of spoken English by preachers. And they had some systems that they used to make us conscious of the fact that we couldn't split verbs and stuff like that. We had to put the verbs in 00:34:00the proper place and things like that. And so then, they had a program and if you were to say the wrong word or use a verb in the wrong place, people would scream and fall out, like they were dying. And that problem was you just killed a verb; you just split a verb.
BENFORD: And that made us more conscious of how we talked. And that did a wholelot to improve everybody's speech.
MAYFIELD: How long did you teach?
BENFORD: I worked there about, maybe, four years, or a little more as aninstructor. My job was to work with the men who had not finished high school. And to get them where they could read and understand what they were reading. And to give them the basics of theology. And of course, that included Christian doctrine, what we believe in our faith, and it also included general bible knowledge. And I had done Sunday school all my life, so I was familiar with the Bible and things like that. But naturally, doing this, I had to be razor sharp and give the boys the basics of the Bible stories and parables, and things like that. And it was real, real, it was very, very helpful to me and to them --
MAYFIELD: --what was the sort of most challenging aspect of your job there?
BENFORD: My--? It was teaching the boys who couldn't, couldn't read. Theycouldn't pronounce words, you know. And of course, they could not handle the King's English. They couldn't get their verbs straight in the singular and plural, you know. And getting them to express themselves in a manner that folk wouldn't break out laughing at them when they spoke. It was very delicate. Very, very delicate job because they were older than myself and some 00:36:00of them were maybe a little, you know, they weren't real old, but they would, they were men. And because they had swallowed their pride and let us help men, we, you know, help them. And the big job was to get them not to take it personal. They would split a verb or say, "I is" or something like that. They got the singular mixed up with the plural. See, everybody would scream and holler. And of course, you, if you understand, you know what's wrong with them. Then they would "What did I do?" And you'd tell them, you said thus and so. "What should you have said?" Then they'd catch on. It would take them about two or three months to catch on to that stuff. And you wasn't going to say the wrong thing because you didn't want nobody screaming and hollering. And girls and boys would do it, no matter where you were.
MAYFIELD: Scream and holler if you split verbs?
BENFORD: Yes, ma'am, they'd scream.
MAYFIELD: So, uh men and women went to the same school. Correct?
BENFORD: Everybody went to school there accepted that as a means whereby theycould police themselves and get themselves in a state, that they could speak, you know, without fear or nothing like that. And nobody could reject, you know, their speech and all. And I'm a double swear witness that that stuff will make you straighten up. (Mayfield laughs) Because when they scream and hollering and then they just act like you shot them in the heart and all that. And when they get through, you just wondering, "what did I do, what did I do." And they say, "You said, thus and so, and that ain't what you should have said." "You should have said, you know, we are, not we is."
MAYFIELD: Ah, I see.
BENFORD: And of course, back in those days, that kind of talk was00:38:00common talk. And you learned real quick that, if I'm going to talk, I have to keep these things in line.
MAYFIELD: So, in 1944, you're teaching, so, how did you start transitioning overto preaching then? What prompted you to leave the school?
BENFORD: Over to when I-- When I first started ministering?
MAYFIELD: Yeah. What prompted you to leave the school to start ministering?
BENFORD: Oh yeah. You see, when I preached my first sermon, I was just fourteenyears old.
BENFORD: That was just one school. I went to Booker T. Washington School inVernon. And me and my, two of my older brothers and myself, we were honor students. And of course, so it was easy for me to learn. I guess it was just a gift. In the meantime, --when I started my preaching, I didn't really even know about preaching. But I was, and I really didn't take English serious. I loved math and history and stuff like that. But for some reason, I never did care a lot about English, but I had to get it because if we didn't, they'd tan your hide. See, in those days, they had discipline in school. And you did not miss, you know, lessons and you got assignments. And they had you on a growth plan. And you had to do it. Your mom wasn't going to say a word if the teacher tanned your hide. In those days, they did this because they recognized as a race, you were behind in some things. And they were very, very, very heavy on us about being good students and the proper use of English, enunciation of words, and you know, when to lower your voice, and when too, you know, stuff like that. Those were just normal things they threw in, as an entree, whether you were going to preach or not.
MAYFIELD: So, you're teaching at the seminary. What was your next step?
BENFORD: Okay, I stayed there. Then I also, --but I also had to take00:40:00major courses in like doctrines. And there are Bible doctrines that Baptists believe, and because we had to study the same thing that they studied in Colgate or anywhere else. You see, there was a, a man, a guy named Strong, S-t-r-o-n-g. He had a doctrine called Strong's Systematic Theology. And at that time, he was top man in the world. He was American. And, but now, his book, his book would crack your head. His book would crack your head. So, you had to take three more doctrines before you got to him. So, when you got to Strong's, you could sort of understand what he was saying. So, he was the first book. We had to study the book, Pendleton Doctrine. J.M. Pendleton. That was the beginner's doctrine. And we had to study a book called Church History by H.C. Vedder, V-e-d-d-e-r. And that gave history of the church after Pentecost, and all that. And who did this and who did that, on down to where we are today, in a sense, but in our day. So, yes, there were those books. And I had to get those. And pass those. Then, the next book you had to study was called, a book called Mullen's Doctrine. And Mullen's Doctrine a doctrine by Mullen was Strong's student, so he wrote a doctrine. And his doctrine wasn't nearly as complicated as Strong's Doctrine. His was quite a lot of reading, a lot of reading. And he was good. He was very, very good. His book was big and thick. And so, we had to get that. We 00:42:00had to get that. And of course, when I said doctrine, that was certain subjects, like the Doctrine of God, Attributes of God, and the doctrine of seeing --the Doctrine of Salvation, and all that kind of stuff. And those things, whatever the Bible said about those things, we had to kind of master that. Of course, when you are studying doctrine, there are a lot of practical things that you don't deal with, but later on, when you begin to work among people, you can make it so much plainer to them.
MAYFIELD: And so, I studied several doctrines. Finished that. We did a littlebit of Connor's Doctrine, but we went to Mullens Doctrine. And then there was another doctrine book called The Great Doctrine of The Bible by William H. Evans. And his doctrine book was a book that had nothing but Bible in it. He didn't do bits and pieces on different things. Whatever the sermon was, he would show that to you in the Bible. Which made it very, very helpful because when you was reading scriptures, you know that this scripture is pointing out adoption or regeneration or whatever you are talking about. And he was mandatory, also. And when you finish Mullens Doctrine, then you was ready for Strong's Doctrine. And of course, it was awesome. Strong's Doctrine was awesome. But he was just saying the same thing, just on a high order and that, but you had to get it.
MAYFIELD: So, you're done with seminary, then what happens?
BENFORD: Well, in seminary, at that time, opportunities for Blacks in00:44:00other schools were limited. Now, had I known then what I know now, I would have gone to another school on a high order. Like Harvard or, you know, like Gammon's Seminary in Atlanta called Gammon's Seminary. But now, Harvard and Colgate and schools like that, they were, uh, and Moody Institute in Chicago, they were high power schools. And of course, you had to get this stuff down here and then go there. But see, but Blacks were not welcome to those schools. We just heard about them. And occasionally, we visited, we were allowed to visit their campuses, and things like that. But we were not recruited as students, so there wasn't anything else we'd look forward to, but to go to work as a leader, a pastor. And of course, I was considered a prepared preacher. I got a B.Th. degree. That's a Bachelor of Theology. And I've got a B.D. degree. That's a Bachelor of Divinity. So, those things were, you know (Bang sound), they were, that's what they were. But opportunities for Blacks were not open then like they were now. And they might take, maybe, one of our guys that was real brilliant, and let him work, but they wouldn't, you just couldn't go there because you wanted to.
MAYFIELD: So, you--
BENFORD: I didn't try to go any further.
MAYFIELD: --so, you wanted to go maybe to a higher, educa--
BENFORD: --Yeah, I wanted to, but I knew that was out of my reach.
MAYFIELD: So, you just started to--
BENFORD: It was out of my reach.
MAYFIELD: --so, you started pastoring?
BENFORD: Hmm hmm, so, I didn't even try to do that. I started looking00:46:00for work as a pastor.
MAYFIELD: What was your first pastor position after the seminary?
BENFORD: When I, --actually, before I finished seminary, they called me to achurch in Beaumont. I was fifteen years old. I was fifteen years old. And, but I was very, very small. My name was out as one of the more promising young preachers in the country. And so, when my father, in the ministry, they called him to this church, and then he got a call to the church in Houston, Texas. And so, when he left, they said, they told him that they wanted me to be their preacher, but I was just fifteen. And of course, a lot of folk criticizing. Some said "No", you know. But the majority rules, and so they said they wanted me to be their pastor and so, --but I had to be ordained. And to be ordained, you had to kind of really know your lessons. And you had to be, you had to know everything that you needed to know. In regards of, you know, of a seminary graduate. So, there are things called the Eighteen Articles of Faith in the Baptist church.
MAYFILED: Eighteen hours of faith, you said?
BENFORD: Eighteen Articles of Faith.
MAYFIELD: Eighteen Articles of Faith. Okay.
BENFORD: It's eighteen things we believe.
MAYFIELD: So (Ping sound) how did you end up in Texas City then?
BENFORD: Well, that's a long story. I stayed in Beaumont a year. I was fifteenyears old. And so, when I was seventeen years of age, they, I passed through here one Sunday afternoon. I was seventeen years old. And I had a friend here, named Pastor F. M. Johnson. He's the pastor of First Baptist Colored 00:48:00in Texas City. And it was shortly after the blast in '47 [Ed. note: 1947 Texas City Disaster]. And I heard he was ill, but I was in, I was in college. I was doing my teaching and studying and all that. And so, I heard he was ill, and I just thought I would come down and give him a hand. He had a bad throat, so when I, -- I caught a ride to Houston, and then they took me over to get the car near the railroad station on Travis. Then I caught a bus down here, and at that time, we jumped in the Texas City Y. There wasn't no bus station here. We jumped in the Texas City Y, so I got off at the Y. I caught a bus to get me back behind the Tin Smelter into the Black neighborhood. When I got there, his morning worship was over, and he was trying to baptize. So, he just asked me, "So, will you stay and preach for me at three o'clock this afternoon? I'm supposed to preach at the church I'm at right now, Rising Star." So, I was just trying to get me some money, so I had some meat. You know, we studied late and night, and we'd buy sandwiches and stuff like that from a guy that cooked in the neighborhood. And so I was just hustling a little change for recreation. So, I stayed and preached for him. And I was seventeen years old. I was kind of heavy. I was good. And I could sing, also. I still sing. And so, I preached for him that afternoon and there were a lot of folk here at that time. Folk went to church. So, these people, they were in the same church. They came down and they shook my hand and they had never seen me before. And they just, you know, who I was. And I told them I went to Conroe College. And knew about Conroe College. Everybody in Texas knew about Conroe College. Some of our greatest Black preachers came out of that school. And so, but they told me that evening, they said, "If we ever get without a pastor, we going to find you." Well, 00:50:00that was an insult to me because they had a pastor. And I didn't like it. And so, I mentioned it to Reverend Johnson that he didn't bother. And I said, "Doc, some of those people told me that if they got without a pastor, they were going to hunt me." He's all, "Don't pay it no mind. That's just, that's the way people are." So, I forgot it. I forgot all about it. That was in forty-seven.
I went on back to school and did my, I still got on with my stuff. And I gavethe church up in Beaumont because the culture was different. I'm a negro. And these people in Beaumont were the French culture. And there's a difference between the French culture and the Black culture. And there's quite a bit of difference. And I didn't really fit them because they were of, they were the French culture. And of course, I was, oh, I was right out of the heart of Texas and we're different. And we have different traits, and stuff like that. And so, I noticed a difference. And I discovered that I really wasn't the man that they needed. So, I gave it up. I gave it up. I went onto school full time. I was coming over on weekends and doing the work. I, so then, while I was, after I gave it up and everything, it was a lot of girls going to Conroe College too. And there was a family going to school there. And they were called the McCanns. And their parents were real, real big-time farmers in Wharton County. And this guy, as a matter of fact, he was a powerful man. He had a lot of property and stuff like that. Then, he was sort of kind of wealthy, and stuff like that. He had two daughters there. And so, he uh, one of them knew me on the 00:52:00campus. And I was pretty popular on the campus. And so, there was a church in Wharton County, a place called Spanish Camp. Now, Spanish Camp is an old Black settlement in Wharton County. And it was quite a place. And there were a whole lot of educated folk in Spanish Camp. They went to Guadalupe College and stuff like that. And they had a doctor and things like that. I mean a registered doctor, and stuff like that. And the church that was there, was kind of on the high-class order. And so, she go and told her grandfather about me. They got another pastor. Their pastor died. And so, she'd go and told him that they ought to let me come preach for them.
MAYFIELD: And who is she?
BENFORD: Her name was Miriam McCann. Miriam McCann. I didn't know she had doneit. But she did it. So, then they wrote me a letter and asked me to come and speak for them. I think it was about the first Sunday in April in 1947. But I'm here to tell you, it was some bad weather. Whew, it was cold. It was cold, cold, cold, cold, cold!
MAYFIELD: Cold in Spanish Camp?
BENFORD: Yes, Spanish Camp. In Spanish Camp. And back in those days, all theyhad was wood heaters, and stuff like that, you know. And everything that a family did. Country church. It was a country church, rural church. But it was good for them, and all that kind of good stuff. And so then, I went that Sunday morning at the invitation, and it was so cold that I had to come out of the pulpit and stand by the heater to preach. And just a few folk there. Faithful people. So, they heard me. And then they asked me would I come back 00:54:00on the fourth Sunday. I went there on the second Sunday, and they asked if I would come back on the fourth Sunday. So that more folk could hear me. And I told them, yeah, I'd come back. And, so, I did. But the secretary of the church was here that afternoon that I preached at the church I'm at right now. He was a carpenter.
MAYFIELD: What was his name--?
BENFORD: --he was doing some work. He remembered me. He remembered me.
MAYFIELD: What was his name?
BENFORD: His name was Handy Bryant. Handy, H-a-n-d-y. Bryant, B-r-y-a-n-t. Andhe looks a petite guy, but he was a great carpenter. Everybody knows him but has also secretary of that church in Spanish Camp, Rising Star Spanish Camp. So then, he told them, "I heard this young man preach before. He preached in Texas City in Rising Star." And this Rising Star in Texas City was named after the church in Spanish Camp.
MAYFIELD: Oh, interesting.
BENFORD: People down there, come up here and they opened that. So, then thatkind of put a little tie to it. And so that fourth Sunday was Easter Sunday. And of course, and then that was when all of the country folk would come out of the woods. Boy. They come out of the woods, and I mean Easter, Easter was a big day for them. And I showed up like I was supposed to. And that Sunday, for some reason, I did not preach, but I taught a lesson on the Atonement. And it was all men. But my teaching and preaching was kind of on the same moral and 00:56:00everything. And it was very, very impressive. And they got even more excited and all that stuff. And so then, they fell in love with me. I was just seventeen years old. They fell in love with me. And of course, they had had some of the greatest preachers in Texas pastor that church. There was a man named H. P. Southern. He was educated in a white school. And he was an unusual Black preacher. And he had been their pastor. They wouldn't call just anybody. You, you kind of had to be a head of it for them to call you. Because they'd all finished college, and they didn't want that normal stuff. And so, then Southern had been their pastor and of course they called another man in behind him. And the man that they called, his was named G.H. White. He passed away and all that, but he was also a moderator of the association of the churches and all that. But he heard me. They saw in me, you know, what they wanted to see. And so then, they called me to that church when I was seventeen years old. And of course, they were people that came down and asked them not to do it. They said I was too young; I was married. But they overlooked all that. They said, "No, it's our choice and we can call who we want to call, and we see something in him." And they called me to pastor that church when I was seventeen years old.
MAYFIELD: So, how long did you pastor at Spanish Camp?
BENFORD: I preached there years. I pastored 1947 to 1950. In the meantime, Itold you about those folks, these people here would come home to see their kinfolk. So then, when they would come home, they'd come for church also. Then they got the chance, they'd start hearing me down there in the 00:58:00country, blah, blah, blah. And so then, when that pastor left them here, then they began to, and then that when I offered to preach for them, they told me they was going to find me. It all worked out. They didn't know where I was here, but they knew a man that did know where I was. And so, they asked him, did he know where, how to locate me, and because they got my name, they called me Benson. My name is Ben-ford. So, he knew there something about it, so he told them where I was. And they called my house, and I answered the phone. I answered the phone. And they said, "Do you know who this is?" And so, it was coming up to the third Sunday in June, in 1950. And they asked me if I would come and speak for them on Father's Day. I used to do a lot of occasional preaching. So, I just thought they wanted somebody to come and bring them special information about fathers and things like that. And I could do that stuff good. And so, I wasn't even thinking about becoming the pastor of the church. And, but I told my father in the ministry about it and he said, "No. I don't think they want you to do a special sermon, day sermon. These old folk are looking for a pastor." And so now, well I didn't like that at all because I was in love with Spanish Camp. It was my first love. And I mean, I was in love with the Rising Star in Spanish Camp. So, I didn't even let it go in my mind. I came here and I spoke. I spoke from the 46th Psalm, God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in time of trouble. And I thought, all our followers knew about God. And so, that nailed this crowd here. In the meantime, they knew me anyway from that 1947. And, so, then they became concerned about men. They asked me to come back 01:00:00again. Well, I had two churches in Wharton County. So, I came back the next Sunday. And I preached for them. And then they asked me to come back again, and I said, "No, I can't come back. Listen now, I have church, I'm not going to move my church to move in with y'all. Now, you heard me. And then, if what you heard don't convince y'all but you, that you, that I'm for you. Yeah, just get somebody else." Because I didn't want to leave Spanish Camp anyway. But they begged me, and begged me, and begged me, and begged me, and begged me, and no, they begged me. And I lied to them. I told them that I would come back just to get them out of my hair.
BENFORD: But I did not plan to come back here and speak for them anymore. So, Ilived in Conroe, and I'd catch the bus and go to Wharton. They'd pick me up. And so I am, I went on back, I went on back to Wharton. And they would always have a great big dinner for me on Saturday evenings. And boy, I ate that big country dinner, and oh, boy. And they had a room for me, and it was kind of high on the prairie like. And there wasn't no air, but you didn't need no air where I stayed at. Oh man, I laid down. As I got, kind of got out of, ---------(?)(?), I didn't unpack my suitcase. I just laid down. So, while I was, while I was laying there, I went into a trance. Vision. And the Lord came to me. And told me to get up and come back to Texas City. He told me that if I didn't come back, somebody would get killed. There was a plot here among these people to reestablish the man that they had already had. And there was a crowd that did not want him. And of course, Lord spoke to me to come. If I didn't come, somebody would 01:02:00get killed. So, I, I didn't hesitate. I just jumped up out of the old bed. I came outdoor and I told Brother Wyatt, that's who I lived with. I said, "Brother Wyatt I got to go back to Texas City". He said, "I understand, Reverend. And he said, "We know we can't keep you here." He said, "You're young and you're talented, so you can't stay in the country." And so, about the time I told him that, a man turned the corner. He was a cotton broker. A Black man. He had a brand-new Chevrolet truck. Green. And he turned the corner and he saw my suitcase in my hand. So, naturally, in those days, people were very cordial, he stopped. And he said, "Reverend, you trying to go somewhere?" He was headed back to Wharton, same town in Wharton was thirteen miles from where I was. I said, "Yes, I got to go back to Texas City." And he said, "I'll take you; I'm going to Wharton." So, he took my suitcase and put it on his truck and got on back to Wharton. And I caught the last bus coming out of the valley, Victoria, and all that, to Houston, to catch the last bus to bring me to Galveston. At that time, they had a bus line called Texas Bus Line. And every two hours, at that time, they were driving to Galveston. Except, Highway 3 was Highway 75 then, the main road to Galveston.
MAYFIELD: Oh, okay.
BENFORD: The only road. And there were just cars, cars, cars. Traffic, traffic,traffic. And you could catch a bus every two hours, two buses would leave Houston coming to Galveston. And people leaving Galveston going to Houston. It was a lot of traffic. Anyway, I got on a bus. And I was so tired. I slept through La Marque because it was La Marque then (coughs). And when I came to, I was on Broadway (coughs) at this fifty-second and K. There was a theater called Broadway Theater. And then one block down from it, is a church called 01:04:00Mount Calvary. Mount Calvary is still there. I knew the pastor because he had attended Conroe College when I was a boy. And so, I just pulled the string and got off and I went to his house. And he hadn't seen me in quite a while, but he had heard that I had been preaching up here. And so, went out and saw me and hugged me, you know, and screaming. He said, "I heard you been preaching in Texas City." And the first thing he told me was, he said, "Please, don't turn them down." He knew it was on my mind, I guess. He said, "Please don't turn them down." He said, "They need you."
MAYFIELD: What was his name?
BENFORD: His name was F. A. Allen. He pastored Mount Calvary Baptist Churchfifty-second and K, F. A. Allen. But it was just like a message from God to me, telling me that I had to take this church. And so, they fixed breakfast for me about two-thirty in the morning. And I got up that next morning. I caught the bus in Galveston; the buses run every two hours. I got up and I caught the right one and it brought me right back to La Marque. And of course, at that time, Rising Star still on Hwy 3, but the bus always stopped right in front of this church. And all I had to do was walk across the road and across the track to the church. And so, I got back in town. I got back here from Galveston. And I walked back across the, I walked across the railroad track. I came on to the church. And of course, when I got here, I could smell something kind of suspicious. The atmosphere was kind of stinky. So, I, it kind of alerted me. And I, I knew where the office was here, in a white framed building. And so, I came on up the stairs and I came in the office. But I could sense something was something wasn't right.
MAYFIELD: Something wasn't, something wasn't right in the church?01:06:00
BENFORD: Yeah. There was something going on in the, inside the churchmembership. There was a plot on to reestablish the man that they had back in the church. You see, he had given it up. And some folk wanted to bring him back. Well, I didn't have anything to do with that. And I really didn't care about that. But I don't know what got into me, but I, like I--I told them. I left the church I loved to come back here and speak for y'all today. And I'm going to preach here today. I don't care who's going to preach after I get through, but I'm going to preach here today. And I don't know why I took that adamant spirit, but that's the spirit I took. And of course, and then later on, because a man came and told them what the problem was. And they didn't know what to do. So, see, when I was in school, I playing minister when I seen them. So, I knew how to preside, knew all about tricks, and stuff like that, and um, so when I saw they were about to be taken advantage of, I said, "I'll handle it" I just told them, I said, "I'll handle it." So, I knew. I had been here several times. I knew the order of worship, and things like that. And some more pastors came. And people rolled out, it was like a carnival. People were all outdoors. The house was packed. People were all around the walls. And blah, blah, blah. But I didn't really care. And I did not want this church. But that Saturday evening, the Lord told me I had to come here. And so, I, I really didn't care. So, when I saw what the problem was, when I came downstairs at the beginning of morning worship, I never did sit down. I didn't give anybody else a chance to even get in the pulpit. And so, I, I carried out all the worship, and like I supposed 01:08:00too, and then I announced my text because, what they were waiting for was, when I sat down, one of the visiting pastors was going to get up and introduce the other man. And I sensed that. So, I never did sit down. And that thwarted all that. And of course, I preached, and I preached out of the Book of Acts. And my text was "Except these abide in the ship, they cannot be saved." And of course, that's scripture that Paul gave the people. He was on the way to Rome. The ship he was riding on got into a storm. They lost the ship and the cargo, but God told Paul to tell the people to stay on the ship and nobody would get drowned. And so, I announced my text, and my sermon was to stay with the ship. And of course, I was, I ---------(?)(?). Boy I was smart. I was a smart boy. I mean, it was awesome. It was awesome. And eight folk joined the church that morning. And, but I had to get back to Glen Flora Spanish Camp. Because it was, they were having a special service for me and Glen Flora. And so I, a man was here and he said, "I'll take you back". He wanted a church too and I told him, "You aren't going to get this church. They done called me." But I told him another church had tried to call, but you go there and tell them I sent you. And they'll call you. So, he went, and he told them later on that I sent him. And he got the church. He get me back in town in the day and time for me to get the special service they had for me. And of course, I was heartsick. Because I know words were God's and I knew I had to accept this church. And of course, I 01:10:00went on and preached for them. And of course, by the, and by this time, the wheels were turning, and they went on. And there was this guy out of Waco that wanted this church. And of course, he preached here. But everybody, they called me the little boy. And they said "No, we want the little boy." So, they didn't want him. And so, they got together, and they called me to this church. But I knew it. The Lord had showed it to me. And he showed me a rainbow. And I was at the beginning of the rainbow and then I went high up in the sky. I never did come down. And that implied that I was coming here, but I would never leave here, to me. And I've been here seventy years. I've been offered other churches, but like I tell them, I can't go anywhere if God don't show it to me.
MAYFIELD: So, as a pastor, here in Texas City, did you have to find your house?Did you live in the--
BENFORD: No. In those days, churches of any size, and especially for aparsonage. You see, most churches had service twice a month. And even then, they would provide a home for the preacher. They call it a parsonage. So, this church had a parsonage. They had somewhere where the preacher to live. And they call it a parsonage. So, when I came here, they had a parsonage. But everything here was run down. It hadn't been painted in twenty years; you know. It was just bad. And the church hadn't been painted in twenty years. Didn't have any sewage, and all that kind of stuff. It was just, it was just in shambles. And the church I was pastor at in the country was in a lot better shape than this church was, and all that. But but, God is showing me that this was my place. And of 01:12:00course, I know nobody God knows when He, when God shows you something, that's the way it's going to be. So, my heart was broken. I accepted the fact that this was my field of labor. And of course, it was several weeks before they called me. They finally got out and they did call me.
MAYFIELD: So, you're up in Spanish Camp and you got a call from the folks inTexas City.
BENFORD: Yeah. See, what I was living on Conroe College campus. And I just goto, I'd go to Wharton on my pastoral days. Then I'd come back to Conroe, because I still work there with preaching and things. So, then, when I, --see, I didn't have a full-time church, and all that. But they were trying to combine two churches, so they could maybe keep me there full time, back in that day. And, but they never got around to it because, because this church called me and they were a full time church. And so, because the Spirit, the Holy Spirit had shown me that this was my church anyway. So, I just kind of played it out, and, and in August, they called me to this church. And so then, I had to give up Rising Star Spanish Camp, and I pastored for this Baptist church in a little town called Glen Flora. I had to give them both up. And on the second Sunday in September, I did my last sermon in Spanish Camp, and I came here to take this church full time. And that was in 1950.
MAYFIELD: The Rising Star Baptist Church in 1950.
BENFORD: Yeah. They're both call Rising Star. This Rising Star came out of theone I pastored in Wharton. So, I just left one Rising Star to come to 01:14:00another one.
MAYFIELD: Yeah, I see. Okay. So, now you are in your parsonage and you'regetting yourself sorted out, um, with your parishioners, um, with your congregation--
BENFORD: --yeah, and it's a transition. And of course, they naturally tried tofix this up and fix that up. And they wanted me to come and live. And so, I moved from Conroe, here. I left. I moved from Conroe College, here, to this church. And of course, I didn't have anything to move, except for some clothes, and stuff like that. And I moved that here. And then I had to get furnished and all that here. But they took care of all that. I had phone installed and room furnished, and stuff like that. Because I went to work on the sewage here because there wasn't any sewage here, period. They had to use cesspools, in those days, here. There wasn't any gas. They had one line. Somebody ran a line up to the church. You know, this whole area was primitive. It, wherever you are, there wasn't nothing out here but prairies, and stuff like that. But folk were building homes, on their own. And there were no regulations. You just build what you wanted to build. The city didn't care what you build in those days. They didn't care what negroes build. And so, people build their home homes. And everybody here come from somewhere else, and they would build me a house to stay in. And they would build you a house next week. I'd say everybody would just chip in and help build you a house. They'd build whatever kind of house you wanted to build.
MAYFIELD: So you--
BENFORD: Because they had a parsonage. The church had a parsonage, so theydidn't have to build no house. It was just run down, and all that kind of stuff.
MAYFIELD: What was the address of the parsonage?
BENFORD: It was on Oak Street.
MAYFIELD: It was on Oak Street?
BENFORD: It was, at that time, they called it 1206 Oak Street.
MAYFIELD: I heard that there was a fire there. When was that?01:16:00
BENFORD: A fire?
MAYFIELD: Yes sir.
BENFORD: Well, that came later on. See when I came here, there was a big tankbehind this church. Where my education building is, was a tank. And of course, and rabbits and stuff like that. And so, this was really primitive country land. And so, then, when I came, I went to work on it. I was so ashamed of it. The first thing I did, I had to try to get the sewage drained out. So, I had to get some new cesspools put in so we could have sewage in the church. And I had a man here named Leroy Davis. And he had experience in cesspools. And he came, and he just started on his own. And everybody joined in with him. So, then we put down a set of real cesspools that looked like sewage. And that got sewage in the church and sewage in my parsonage, and stuff like that. And then, the building had not been painted in twenty years. And so, down Hwy, that was Hwy 3 now, it used to be 75. There was a lumberyard called Blackburn Lumberyard. So, I went out and told them, "I want to get some paint and we'll pay you later." So, I went, I went and got some five-gallon paint. And I started painting the church. And so, when the men saw me painting, then all the folk, when they go to work, in the evening, then they come and join me, and we start painting the church outside. You couldn't even tell, it had been so long, you couldn't even tell what color the paint was. But I knew how to paint because I did that when I was going to school, at my old school. So, they joined me. And everybody in town, said "That preacher is painting the church, we got to go help him." And so, everybody came, and we got this church painted. We got two coats of 01:18:00paint on it and turned it back to snow white. Snow white. And we got the towers painted and all. There was a man named William S. Dale. He was a screwman. Yes, sir, he was a high-class longshoreman. He knew how to build scaffolds and things. And so, he and myself, we took the towers and we painted the towers. And it turned into a brand-new place, outside. Then of course then we came inside, and we did it on the inside. There was no carpet in the church, so then we got busy and we, raised the money and we put carpet in the church, and all that. And we turned it into a little garden spot real quick. I brought the inspiration, and they joined me. And so, we turned this old shell into a nice little place. I mean, a very nice little place. And of course, in the meantime, it began to grow. Folks started joining, and stuff like that. Then, in a couple of years here, this place was packed with people. And I was standing forward, coming here, moving here, and things like that. And I guess I must have been the kind of guy that they kind of liked. A hundred and ninety-eight folks joined the church the first year I was here.
MAYFIELD: A hundred and eighty people joined the first year you were there?
BENFORD: A hundred and ninety-eight.
MAYFIELD: A hundred and ninety-eight. That's quite an accomplishment.
BENFORD: Well, different places, you see, La Marque was growing. La Marque, atone time, used to be the fastest growing town in America. It was, it was news item. You see, they was building these plants here. See, that Carbide came here. American Oil came here. And Monsanto. And see, people come down here 01:20:00to work. They would come from all them rural places. Building homes here, and renting and it was just, there was no end to the people. At one time, this was the work center of the world. Texas City, Texas City. Texas City wasn't incorporated. I mean, La Marque wasn't incorporated. And so they called this La Marque. All this land at one time, was not incorporated. And there was people here, white, Black, all kind of folk. And they let you build anything you wanted to build --
MAYFIELD: --how long did you live
BENFORD: --a house.
MAYFIELD: How long did you live at this parsonage? Was it always at the samelocation? Did it--, was it always --
BENFORD: It was a short while because the church burned. I stayed in theparsonage for about two years, or something like that.
MAYFIELD: So, after two years, like in 19--
BENFORD: --the parsonage was already here. All we had to do was paint it up, youknow, and all that. But what, the parsonage was right beside the church. It was on Oak Street. It faced Oak Street then. And of course, it was about, maybe, twenty feet from the church. And it was just a little, like a four-room house, and all that in general. There wasn't no lavish place or nothing like that. And of course, I, I moved in it. And they painted all the rooms, and stuff like that. And did this and did that. And they spruced it up. And it was in good shape. Tip top. The church and the parsonage. It was sparkling. And then, that's when the fire came. The fire came, December twenty-four, nineteen and forty fi--nineteen and fifty-two. I'd been ---------(?)(?), you know. And we were really growing. They were on a rise. And then, I got it painted up. My house and the parsonage and I mean the church. And we had things sparkling. we 01:22:00were moving. And it was really going. And, but we had some automatic heaters in this church. Because it, it'd get pretty cold down here. And of course, but it wasn't anything on the north side of the church. And when the wind would come from the north, that's where most northers came from. It would blow real, real hard. And the church was wood. And that allowed the wind to come in and of course, we had those automatic heaters. And it would blow the flame out from underneath the heater, you know, onto the wires and things like that. And that's what happened here. December the twenty third, this great big, powerful norther came here. That because we had sacked the food for the Christmas tree. We always did have Santa Claus, and stuff like that, for the kids. And we, I helped them do it. We got it all sacked and everything. And at that time, my first wife was in Tyler, Texas at a tuberculosis asylum. They thought she had tuberculosis. But she didn't. She had; she had a tumor in her lung. And ah, but then they finally found it out, so they sent her back to John Sealy. And they told us, she didn't have tuberculosis. She has a tumor in her lung. And a doctor named Doctor Middleton, he was in charge of that lung division. And he operated on her and took that tumor out, finally. But, in the meantime, I was going to go pick her up anyway. And I had, I just bought a brand new '49 Pontiac. It was toffee and two-door. And I filled it up and put it down in the chute, you know. And I was going to go pick up my wife that morning, about six o'clock and bring 01:24:00her back here for Christmas. And it was December 23rd. And so then, on December 24th, this is when this wind blew this fire out and it must have set the wires on fire, where the heaters was. And they were under the pulpit, the heaters were. And a lot of draft under there, and all that stuff. And lo and behold, when I went to bed that night, after we had sacked all the food. And I had, there was a rat, a rat. And every night, when I would come home, it would be late. I'd always read the paper. And that rat would come and he, and he gets right in front of me.
BENFORD: And so, we became kind of something like pals. I stopped chasing him. Icouldn't catch him, anyway. And so, that night, someone had given me some chicken or something. You know, how people would bring something for you to eat.
MAYFIELD: Uh hmm.
BENFORD: And I had my paper. And so I was there, eating the chicken. I looked upand there he was. He was standing up on his two little legs watching me read the paper. And so, I didn't shoo him. I didn't run him away or nothing. I was ready to play with him. And I had food. I had, it was cold, oh boy, it was cold. Fighting cold. I went in my room and laid down. And there was an old man in this town. They called him Uncle Tom. And he was a wino. And he walked the streets, day, and night. Everybody in the community knew Uncle Tom. He was restless. And then he would also go up and get the people who had to walk up to work. There was a cafe right there on Texas Avenue. It's burned down now. 01:26:00It was called Bostick's Cafe. It was very, very popular. Matter of fact, they fed all them folk in those plants. Man, they'd send boxes of dinners in. Boxes in. Along with that good business in that place. And they, but he did not practice segregation.
MAYFIELD: So, the bo--, it was --
BENFORD: Back in the, back in the fifties, he did not practice segregation.
MAYFIELD: So, Mr. Bos--Bostick was his--Mr. Bostick was his name?
BENFORD: Yeah, the name of the cafe was Bostick's. He was Italian.
MAYFIELD: And what was the name of the owner?
BENFORD: His name was Bostick, too. It was after him.
MAYFIELD: Oh, okay. It was after him. I see, okay.
BENFORD: Yeah. But he was a well-known restaurateur. And he had worlds andworlds of business. He stayed open twenty-four hours a day. He used to feed the folk at the plants. They'd order a hundred dinners and stuff like that. There was all kinds. And he had, he had a chef/cook named Jewel Garrett, Sr. Now he has children here right now. Jewel Garrett, does. He was Bostick's main cook. And man, he'd get that stuff out. I mean, they had vans, and things, and pick-up trucks. And they carried hundreds into the Carbide. Picture this, I'd remember going all day and all night. Plus, they had a great traffic. Because folks stopped there and eat too. And Bostick did not care where you sit. He did not practice segregation there. And everybody knew that too. So, I'd just go sit down, and all that kind of stuff, you know. And but, he had a lot of Black help. And Uncle Tom, would come down past my church, there was some little 01:28:00apartments down there. And that's when folk, that lived in those apartments, they worked for Bostick's and every morning they would walk to work from below this church here. And he would go and walk with them. You know, just as a favor, you know, to women. And so, that morning, he had gone down to get them. And they were on their way, walking past the church, and they were the ones that saw that the church was on fire. I was asleep. Probably would have burned alive.
MAYFIELD: So the church was on fire. Not just the parsonage?
BENFORD: No, the parsonage was on the other side of the church. See, I was onthe other side of the church. The church was first. And my parsonage was second. And there was a driveway between the church and my parsonage. And so then, so, the church was on fire. So, when they saw it, they knew where I slept. They came and they began to beat on the window. And, and I had just got to sleep real good. And I said, "Who is this waking me up", at now in the morning that I have to try and go up to Tyler and pick my wife up. And something said, "Don't answer them", but something else said, "Answer them." So, I finally answered and let them know. And they told me that "the church is on fire!" And of course, when they said that, that was all they needed to say. I jumped out of bed and came to the door. And I didn't take no chances. I didn't put on no shoes or nothing. I had on some long johns. And that's what I came out of there in because I understood very well the wind was blowing from the north, and it could very easily engulf that house. And then I couldn't have got out at all. So, I came out. And of course, the ground was cold, and I was jumping up and down on cold ground. I had nothing on my feet. There wasn't no fire 01:30:00department here then. They had one little fire truck. And I do mean little one. So, then they called the fire department. But when I got there, then the people that live across the highway, they, everybody started coming like folk come to a fire. And of course, there was a man named William S. Dale. His house is still there. It was a very cute little old house. It's still there. He was that longshoreman I told you about that knew all about how to do scaffolding and things. And it just so happened that he was home that morning. He had not gone to the wharf. So, he came over here, everybody thought I was in the house. The house burned down before the church did. The flame was so strong. I got out of the house and then that, like I got over in the yard like. But the wind was blowing so, the flames engulfed the house. And in the meantime, when I first got out, everybody said, "Get your car! Get your car!" My car was down at the end of the church. So, I would have to run between the house and the parsonage to try to get the car and bring it out. And something told me, "Don't try it." So, I didn't. I said, "I don't care, let it burn." And so, because the flames are blowing away from the church, and finally, the whole area was nothing but flames. Had I gone down in there, I never would have come out.
BENFORD: I never would have come out. Because the fire, wind was blowing thefire, and all that kind of stuff. And the Lord blessed me to get out. He came over. He saw that I didn't have no shoes. He saw all I had on was some long johns. And he was a big guy. He went and got me a pair of his pants, his old coat. And he brought me some rubber galoshes. And I put that on. And man, that wind was talking.
BENFORD: And of course, I, he wrapped me up in it and all that. And01:32:00we just stood back and watched. And of course, people came, people began to come. They came from everywhere.
MAYFIELD: So you--
BENFORD: They thought I was in there. And he said, "No sir, Rev's not here." I'mout. I'm not in there. They came screaming, hollering, and calling. I said, "I'm not in the house. I'm out of the house."
MAYFIELD: People came because they were worried about you.
BENFORD: Oh yeah. You see, the whole town saw the fire. And so everybody came,you know. La Marque and Texas City people came. And the fire was spectacular. And I mean that church was big. So, they came, but everybody thought that I was in there asleep. And of course, the house was just completely engulfed in fire. As a matter of fact, the house burned down before the church burned down.
MAYFIELD: So, both the church and house burned down?
BENFORD: They both burned. I mean they burned slap, down, to the ground. Theonly thing left was a pair of stairs, and a small portion of them. And they were on the north side of the house and the flames, the wind drew the flames away from the stairs. there was a small portion of them left. Everything else burned slap down to the ground. They brought the fire truck out. They didn't even try to put no fire out.
MAYFIELD: So, the church and the house caught on fire, but what were you goingto do as far as, um, preaching? Like--
BENFORD: Well, there wasn't anywhere to preach. See, it all burned down to theground in a matter, you know, of minutes, an hour. Whatever it took. So, there wasn't no more church here. There wasn't anything here at all, for some ashes, and all that. So, then that left us outdoors. And we were a very popular church. And all that, you know, because we weren't the only one here. They had some more churches here. So, then that's when we started looking for some place where we could have church because there wasn't anything here you know, before 01:34:00Rising Star.
MAYFIELD: So, you didn't build the church back on the same space?
BENFORD: No, not right then. We had to get over it first. We had a littleinsurance. And so started making plans to, rebuild. But in the meantime, we had to first find somewhere to have church, so we could meet. And so, we started, started using Bell Zion. They offered that church to us. Bell Zion. And we used it a time or two. Then at the park. There was a place up there. We had a park up there and it had a little auditorium in it. And so we got, we secured that. And they started letting us meet in the park, so we started meeting there. And then, they had built a, they had built a funeral home on Hemphill Street. Mainland Funeral used to be on Hemphill Street. And of course, they had a chapel, and things like that, for funerals and things that. So, we started to go to from pillar to post. Pillar to post.
MAYFIELD: So, so you start going to where, was it? I'm sorry.
BENFORD: I said, "Pillar to post." It means, here, there, wherever we could land.
BENFORD: That's an old expression. It means, you have nowhere certain to go. Butyou could always find somewhere to go.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: That's old folks' terminology. When we went from pillar to post.
MAYFIELD: Pillar to post. Okay.
BENFORD: Yeah. Just wherever you could go. Wherever you could land. Whoeversaid, "Yes," that's where you went. And of course, in the city, the park, at that time, didn't belong to the city. The park belonged to the county. And three Black men had give them, the county, that park. Bell, Bell was a tycoon of La Marque. Patrick and Armstrong were Galvestonians. And they built a little subdivision, kind of near where the park is. And of course, they gave the park to--. And that was a big thing, the park was for Blacks. Of course, whites had their own parks and so they had no need for it. But in the meantime, 01:36:00wherever we could find a convenient place, that's where we would have church on Sundays. And sometimes, we would stay two and three weeks, and then we would have to go move somewhere else.
MAYFIELD: How long did it, how long did it take you to build a new church?
BENFORD: It took two, three years. I know it took over two. It took over two forus to get back into, you know. Because we didn't have much insurance. And of course, we had to get you know, we had to get some plans. And all that took time. And trying to keep the folk together. People, but people had joined our church when we was outdoors. They joined, and all that. And then, we finally got some plans. And, because we had a big disaster. The plans we had for the first church, after it burned, were beautiful. And it was, oh, larger. And had a parsonage built on the end of it, like an "L". It was all together. And we found a guy that could build it, and all that kind of stuff, you know. He was Black. And but he had the backings of powerful white folk. And he had built stuff in Houston, so we knew he could build it. And ultimately, we made a deal with him
MAYFIELD: What was his name?--
BENFORD: --to build the church. His name was Reuben Polk. Reuben Polk. P-o-l-k.He was a huge guy. But he was Indian. You would look at him and you could see it all over him. He was Indian. I don't know what tribe he was from, but he was up from around New Waverly. He was Indian, but he was a powerful, businesslike guy and a contractor. And he had the backing of some of the most powerful 01:38:00men in the area. Yeah, he had the backing, he had the backing of Miss Hanson, and some more guys. And they were builders too. But he built, he'd build for anybody. But he built primarily for Blacks. He had already built three or four churches in Houston. So he made it known that he would build the church for us. And naturally we used him for the main contractor. And we had a, it was an awesome this thing. If I had built that, man, oh, whew, oh whew.
MAYFIELD: Why did it not get, why, what happened? Why did it not get built?
BENFORD: Well, we had fifteen thousand cash dollars. And we paid that down onthe church. And this fella, they financed it. They were going to finance it. They were going to finance it. As for the white folks, they didn't, it was no problem at all to get a church. Now, Black folk and all, would get a church financed. At least, you used to could. Now a church debt is a debt that white men, white folk, know they ain't going to lose. And so I wasn't going to have no trouble financing it. But, so, I paid him that down. And then, on the Sunday before he was beginning to build it, he was a rodeo man. He loved rodeos. And he was in Houston, at a place called Cid's Ranch, they had a big Black rodeo ground there. It was strictly Black. It was where the Blacks had their rodeos. And he was there. And they rode. And everybody knew about Cid's Ranch, and this big motel and cafe and everything. And he was trying to ride a horse, and the horse threw him and broke his leg. Threw him on Sunday and broke his leg. And by Monday morning, he had double pneumonia. He, that guy weighed about 270 pounds. He was tall. And so, then, but we were looking for him. But we didn't 01:40:00know it, about the, the accident until Monday morning. Everybody was here to greet him, and for him to start the building. But he didn't show. So, I said that something must have happened, because he didn't show. So, then, I had his number, and I went and came in here, same office, and I called him. I called him. And he barely could talk. And he said, "Reverend, sorry, I'm in the Baptist Hospital." And he said, "I had an accident yesterday, and so I got throwed by a horse and my leg is broke." And he said, "I got double pneumonia." Well, that was an act of God. And we all knew that. So, I got in my car, and I drove down there. And there he was. And the folk waited. I came back and said, "I've seen him." I said, "He is in the hospital, leg broke." There is nothing we can do. But they couldn't understand that. They couldn't understand it was an act of God. And so, they had a meeting again, and act like he done stole our money. And, and they, they went to pieces. I lost control of them. And then they accused me of stealing it with him. And, oh boy, they put Joshua on me. But, in the meantime, the district attorney in Galveston, fined people, I had them come out and tell them, y'all ain't got nothing to worry about. This man got 180 days after the contract expires to start. And if he don't start then, then we can file charges on him. But until then, see, I don't, we don't think he's trying to beat y'all. But you couldn't them that. You couldn't tell them that. They thought, he had run off with their money. And man, they went to pieces. And that drug on, man, for whew, hew. That drug on for, well over a year and a 01:42:00half. and there wasn't anything he could do. And so, finally, he got to where he could travel. And then they got mad and said they didn't want him to build it. Well, that voided the contract. We had already paid him fifteen thousand dollars on it. That was just money we gave away. But they didn't understand that. And of course, Black people, a lot of them, don't understand business. And, and I explained to them, now you can't get the money back. I said, I said, "That's like giving it to him. We got to give him every chance we can to come and build it. If he don't build it, then you ain't got, you got the law to put him, they put him in jail if he don't build it", so to speak. And so, I couldn't make them see it. And I was just twenty--I came out-- so, I was about twenty-two, or something like that. I was young. But I knew how to handle folk. I was good at handling folk, I could handle them. And I could handle them, but them old timers, they just so sure they'd been frauded. And man, then when he got to where he could build it, they were mad and said, "We don't want him to build it." I said, "Aw, we can't say that now, don't say that." If you say that, he's going to sue you." And sure enough, he did. He sued us for the rest of that money. In order to make us let him build it. And of course, they didn't understand that. And when he sued the church, boy, you talk about blasphemy. Anybody sues a church, you know, in those days, you was a mess. He sued us because this was the contract. But he sued us all to make us let him build it.
MAYFIELD: So, he built it?
MAYFIELD: So, he did build it.
BENFORD: He sued it. Yeah. Yeah, finally. Not then. He sued us. And then, we gotexploited. We had, we had some lawyers, you know. And they knew better. But they told him, you know, they, if they would give him so much 01:44:00money. Make him, I say, "you ain't going to give no nobody nothing." The district attorney came here and told you, you ain't got to give nobody nothing. Just wait on the contract to expire. If he don't start, we will arrest him. We'll send him to Leavenworth, for fraud. But they couldn't see it. Them old, stubborn, hard of understanding, and so the battle went on, and on, and on, and on, and on. And they wouldn't give in. If you don't want him to build it. And of course, then I was trying to keep them together. And they were on me too. They accused me of being in cahoots with him. And, but at the same time, I still remain here. And I preached. And the church went on pretty good, because a lot of folks knew I didn't. And so, the majority of the folk understood me, and they understood their lack of understanding. So, I had a little fellow by the name of William Andrew Bryan. He was a little short dude, He, he come, why, I thought he was four feet tall. If not, he wasn't an inch or two over. But he was a real good preacher. And a real good songster. And they knew him. He used to teach way before the church burned, and blah, blah, blah. And so, he came through. And of course, they, they didn't want anybody but me, that crowd was hot! Now, they didn't preach. On one Sunday morning, and oh, man, they went wild. And they, they wasn't listening to me. So, they, just, they went wild. So, the Holy Spirit told me to ask him to stay in and revival. Because they liked him so. They liked him. And he said, "Yeah, I'll stay." So, I announced the revival. Man, the folk came, whew. At that time, we were going over to Mainland Funeral on Hemphill Street. And they had a real nice chapel. And it 01:46:00had two offices and a john, blah, blah, blah. And so, we, we, we, they came that first night. And he preached. Oh, they just went wild. They came there that second night. Oh, man, they, he, they went wild again. And I don't, I didn't, I didn't know this was going to happen. That third night, he preached. And it's, it's a text in Kings. And the text says, "Why sit here till we die". So, lepers, and they couldn't go to town. They couldn't show themselves in public. And they were starving to death. But, Syria, the same Syrians in the ---------(?)(?) now. At that time, they, they had sent an army to fight against Jerusalem. Jerusalem. And of course, and they had the town surrounded. And they wouldn't let nobody in or nobody out. And there was a famine inside the city. People sold their children. They ate people's arms. It was a horrible situation. But they were there, and they had plenty of stuff to survive the army. But these lepers were out there in the woods, so they were starving to death too. So, they said, "We can't go to town." And said, "If we sit here, we're going to die." Said, "If we go to the enemy camp, they may feed us or they may kill us." And they said, "Why sit here and die?" "If we, we're going to the Syrians and see if they just give us the scraps of what they had." So, when they got over there, the Lord had moved and killed all of them. The Lord killed 185,000 Syrian soldiers. And they can, and the lepers were the ones that found them first.
MAYFIELD: So, this was the story--
BENFORD: It is in the Bible. It is a true story. It's a true story.01:48:00And so, the first lepers came, and they pigged out and ate all they wanted, and everything. Got all they wanted. They, they went back to, they, they couldn't come to town. Lepers were abandoned. Isolated. And so when they got back to their places, they sit down, full. But they thought about informing Jerusalem, you know, being cannibals, and eating one another, and eating up children. And they said, now, they said this is in the Bible, "We do not well". We know something, and they needed to know it. So, we are going to go tell them people what we found. And that night, when he preached it, that's the text he took. God gave it to him. And he preached about, "We do not well." And he took that situation and compared it to us fighting and feuding among ourselves. And not letting the man come build the church. He out waiting to build it. And we outdoors and going pillar to post. And he made it just fit us perfect. Perfect! I mean, perfect.
BENFORD: We could see ourselves. And some of the folk got up and startedwalking. And they started talking out in church. Some started using profane language. And because it condemned them. And then some of the folk was glad to hear it. So, when I saw how convicted the people were, I stood up and I stopped him. I told; I told him the revival was over. And all the money we raised; it was in a sack. We gave it to him because I saw a point where we would get through it. And then, there was a crowd of folk from the church that said, "Reverend, what can we do?" I said, "All of you that want to build a church, and are going to follow my leadership, you all come with me." So, I 01:50:00carried them up into one of those little offices and about twenty or thirty men came. They wasn't deacons. They was just lay people. It's real working with you. And all we got to do is go tell the man to come and build the church. I said, "I just need a committee to go and let him know." And so, we got five or six guys. They were all good men. And they went out and told him, come on and build the church. And that's the way that thing ended.
BENFORD: He came. And he was also, he was high in masonry.
MAYFIELD: Who was the man who built the church?
BENFORD: Reuben Polk. The same guy that--
MAYFIELD: Oh, the same guy. Oh, okay.
BENFORD: Yes. He's well now. He's well. And he was walking, and all that. Theyjust wouldn't let him build it. He was willing to build it. They were just mean and wouldn't let him build it.
BENFORD: Because he didn't build it when he said he was going to build it.
[End of first session.]
MAYFIELD: Good afternoon. Today is Thursday, October 8, , and my name isTheresa Mayfield. And we are doing our second part of our African American Experience Oral History project. And we are here today, well actually, remotely today, with Reverend D. N. Benford from the Rising Star Baptist Church. Good afternoon, Reverend Benford. How are you today?
BENFORD: Fine, thank you. And thank you for having me.
MAYFIELD: Absolutely, not a problem. Reverend Benford, the last that we talked,we were in the story of Polk. You--, the church had burnt down, and um, there was controversy with who would be the new builder for the church. And at the end, we had, you had, you were able to get Mr. Polk to build the church. Is that correct?
BENFORD: Yes. Um, he had never tried not to build it. He merely had an accidentbefore the time for him to start. And the contract that we had made with him was he had 180 days in case of an act of God to do his work.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: And of course, the people not being knowledgeable of law and things,they thought he was trying to run away from them. And of course, we did all we could to convince them that he wasn't trying to not do the work. He wasn't able to do the work. And that what happened to him was an act of God. He did break his leg and have double pneumonia, and all that. And so, he was in the contract allowed him to get well before he could do this. And of course, the people, aged, and a lot, many of them were hard of understanding of legal things. And it tried to get a big dog fight. And of course, he sued the church in order to make them let him build it. And of course, he already had a portion of the cash for the building. And of course, he could lose. And so, then we ultimately, we had to calm the senior members down and make them understand that he was 01:52:00not trying to, get away with the money, and avoid not building it. He just wasn't able to. And other after weeks and months of wrangling, we were able to settle it. And he did come and made peace with everybody. And he did build us a building. It wasn't the building we had at first, but it was still a lovely place. And we were able to live in it and be happy. Yeah, we solved it.
MAYFIELD: So, you're saying that he used a different drawing for the church?
BENFORD: Well, we, we use a different design. It took us about two years to getthis done. And somewhere in the process, um, we were, we changed our design, and all, for the building that we had planned to build at first.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: And all, and we, actually we cut back on some of the, some of the expansion--
BENFORD: --and all. But it, it still worked out real good.
MAYFIELD: When did the church finally be built? Was it--
BENFORD: It was rebuilt in 1956.
MAYFIELD: Nineteen fifty-six.
BENFORD: Yes, ma'am.
MAYFIELD: And it burnt down in December of 1952?
BENFORD: That's right. Hmm, hmm.
MAYFIELD: Oh, so quite a number of years, then. Yes.
BENFORD: Hmm, hmm.
MAYFIELD: Where was the church located? Did your church have this specific--
BENFORD: The church is located at 302--
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: --, North Oak Street. At that time, it was called 1206 North Oak. It'sin the same place it's been since 1914.
MAYFIELD: Since 1914.
BENFORD: Yeah. This church has always been in this location. And at that time,Hwy 75 was the only road to Galveston. And the freeway had not been built, and so, there was a lot, so, there was always a lot of traffic. It's called Hwy 3, now.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: But this used to be originally, Hwy 75.
MAYFIELD: So you had a lot of, you had a lot of traffic going past your church,then.
BENFORD: Well, everybody, that went to Galveston, had to come right by it--01:54:00
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm
BENFORD: --, this church, this church.
MAYFIELD: Was the neighborhood that the church was in, I'm assuming that youlived, you built a rectory, and that you lived in the rectory at the church. Is that right?
BENFORD: Are you asking me was that the, was it a big neighborhood?
MAYFIELD: So, did they also--
BENFORD: It was more of a rural setting. La Marque, at the time, was growingtremendously. There was a lot of land here. But it was, it was undeveloped. And people, they'd come here because of the work that was being offered to folk who came in from other areas. And so people began to build houses and on their own. And of course, these houses that they built, they were not necessarily built by city code. They just, whatever they, back in those days, they didn't care what you built as long as you were happy with it. We were not held to city codes when it came to building. But the area grew at a rapid pace, and so, up and around this church there was a number of houses and things.
MAYFIELD: Did the community have a name?
BENFORD: They called this whole area, La Marque.
MAYFIELD: La Marque?
BENFORD: Yeah. At one time, they called this whole area, it's now known as WestTexas City. But it was, it was called La Marque.
MAYFIELD: I heard that it was called Andrew Street community. Does that sound familiar?
BENFORD: No. That, I've never heard that before.
MAYFIELD: Never heard that before?
BENFORD: We just kind of knew, Oak Street. And of course, there's housesbeginning to build, and all that. The name of our street came later.
MAYFIELD: The name of your street. So, you just had roads, but no street names.
BENFORD: Yeah. Now, there was a settlement called the Howard Settlement. It wasa lot of people come in here from Louisiana. And they were, primarily, were Howards. And they were about, maybe, I'd say a block from the 01:56:00church. Kind of going east. And then, but everybody that lived in that settlement primarily were Howards. And so, they referred to that as the Howard Settlement.
MAYFIELD: The Howard Settlement. And, and the rectory was at the church again,I'm imagining. The rectory, where you and your wife and family lived?
BENFORD: Yeah. We, yeah. The church was a landmark. And of course, when theybuilt, and they, they built their homes and things, kind of like around the church. And they would build on all sides. At one time, La Marque was the fastest growing area, they said, in the United States.
MAYFIELD: I know, you mentioned that.
BENFORD: Poor, poor, poor ------(?)(?)folk were coming here from differentareas, Louisiana, and Marshall, and Brazos Bottom, Brenham, and all around because there were a lot of jobs here. Factories going up quickly here. And these people came because of steady work. And so, they worked for the companies by day, and they'd build their houses by night. And they had something like a community club and everybody would just get in and help me build my house. And I'd help you build yours. And, and that's how La Marque, the first stage of La Marque grew up.
MAYFIELD: Like one person helping the other, everybody just helping each other.
BENFORD: Yeah, yeah. Neighbors helping neighbors.
MAYFIELD: Hmm. Neighbors helping neighbors. Did you live? Where did you and yourfamily live?
BENFORD: This church had built a parsonage.
BENFORD: And so, they had a house designated for the preacher to live in. Andit was on, it was on Oak Street. And of course, it was facing Oak Street, right beside the church. But when the church burned, it burned down too. The parsonage burned with the church. So, then, we had to, we had to kind of get out and kind of locate somewhere to stay in. We did that.
MAYFIELD: You did that until the parsonage was rebuilt?
BENFORD: Yeah. We didn't, we didn't get the parsonage back until years later.
MAYFIELD: Okay. Did the parsonage, was it built at the same time?
BENFORD: Yeah, the patronage burned down before the church did. The wind came bythe north, and it was very, very strong. And so it blew the flames on 01:58:00the parsonage from the church.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: Both, both houses burned. And they were wood.
MAYFIELD: They were made out of wood.
BENFORD: It was a bad Norther. And it, it took it down.
MAYFIELD: Can you tell me a little bit about the racial and economic make-up ofyour community?
BENFORD: The racial make-up, it was lots and lots of people that came in herewhen they discovered the work and the good pay, and things like that. And of course, um, they moved in, and then, most of these people were good people. They were honest people and they just, they wanted to belong, and all they wanted was some economic security, and steady income, and things like that. So, a great ma--, most of the people were not bad folk or nothing like that. They were Christian people and they come out of good homes and all that. And of course, there was an element in our area of folk who never abided by life and things like that. It was not necessarily lots of bad things, but normal things did happen. And of course, in the Black community, in our community, the leaders, pastors like myself, we had quite a voice in try--in controlling our people, encouraging our folk to, to go in the right path, and avoid problem with the police. And we did. We had a police force here, and all. Basically, things went well. Every now and then, something would happen between the police and somebody in the community. And of course, there was no way to deal with folks downtown. So, the preacher, and I was a preacher in this area, we would have to go downtown and talk with the police chief and try to explain what happened. And encourage him to encourage his officers to try to be understanding, and, and, and then we could always, we, we, solved a lot of problems. We handled the trouble. But when, but we weren't asking anybody to let us do the 02:00:00wrong thing. We knew the boy to be of help, and things like that. But everybody gots into the police were not necessarily bad. Some were good folk. And they deserved another chance. And we were just like that. I knew the police chiefs, Dewald Rankin, and , and I think one guy named William, and they were, they were nice men. And they would listen. They would listen to the preacher. And of course, I knew the JP, here. They had a commissioner named Jeffery Dale. And most, and most of the time, whatever would happen, they would come through here and the police force and it was kind of a little family relationship. And if I thought people were good and true blue and, and were not looking for difficulty with laws, we would speak good of them. And they would release people to us, to me if I had any faith in them. And we had to bring them back. And they warned them, and because, in those days, well, they didn't, the bond system wasn't in ---------(?)(?). So, ---------(?)(?) normal things. [Note: buzzing interference]. You could always get a person out because they were working. And that's what the culture wanted. They wanted our folk to work. And if we explained to them that they had a job and a family and they needed to work so they could pay their fine and they'd always let us have them. And they, and they would show up when they were supposed to. And it worked out kind of like a little family relationship.
MAYFIELD: Oh, that's--
BENFORD: It did work fine. It worked very, very well. And Justice Dale was just,I don't know what you would call him. He was just a people's person. He didn't look at color when it came to what was right and wrong. And if you were Black and you were wrong, then he would tell you that you were wrong. And if you were white and you were wrong, he would tell them they were, they were wrong. And he kept things pretty equal, almost. He did not allow the law to exploit the Blacks, and all that. Because there were those who would crush them 02:02:00and take advantage of them. And if he thought like you was caught dealing and things, they would (laughs) , he, he tell you was right or wrong. And that just was the way it was. And everybody accepted it. He didn't care about the color. If you were right, you right, or if you're wrong, you're wrong.
***[end of second session part 1]
[start of second session part 2, no introduction, technical difficulty resultedin a brief amount of omitted audio]
BENFORD: And each house had to have its own cesspool because that gavesanitation in the house and the disposal of waste. And there was a little water and a little gas. Just some lines like. And they, they would bring the lines down and you could tie into them. It, it wasn't a lot of pressure, and stuff, but we had minor water and minor sewage because of low water pressure. And of course, those make gas also. So, there was maybe one gas line, and if you could get to it and dig you a line and tie into it, you had gas. And most, and, and that's kind of the way they was first.
MAYFIELD: So, you had, you could get gas lines later on. You could tie into gaslines ---------(?)(?).
BENFORD: You had to kind of, you had to kind of do that yourself. Um, if Iwanted, if I wanted a water line to my house, I had to kind of, get it, I had to get it dug. Get the pipe and stuff and tie into a line. Their line down here. You had to tie into it. And if I wanted gas, it was kind of on the same lines. And of course, the church had been able to get water and gas in the area to the church. And because the other folk would tie into it and they'd carry it a little bit further, and carry it a little bit further, and that's where we got our water and our, our gas. And of course, they did have electric, electricity. At that time, it would be weak, but, as they'd progress, they'd get in transformers, and sometimes the lights would go out, if it got overheated, and all that. Because of the fast and rapid pace of growth, in that same 02:04:00time, the city, there were appeals being made to give us, you know, a kind of power, and a size of pipes and things that could accommodate it. And that came slowly but surely.
MAYFIELD: As your area began to grow and grow--
BENFORD: Yes, yeah.
MAYFIELD: --you started getting more of a---
BENFORD: Of course---
MAYFIELD: --better infrastructure.
BENFORD: --and then, then while this was going on, the city of La Marqueattempted to annex an area for the City of La Marque. And they did do it, but they left everything on the west side of what we call Texas Avenue. They only, they only, incorporated the area on the right-hand side of Texas Avenue and called it La Marque, and they left this area, what we ca--, what we now call West Texas City unincorporated. And because, the idea was to annex La Marque first, and then to claim what we now know as West Texas City. And of course, in the process, when they, when they annexed and called it La Marque, the City of Texas City had an emergency meeting, and they annexed the area now known as West Texas City. And, oh, my goodness, it almost started a civil war.
MAYFIELD: So, many people were not happy about that?
BENFORD: Well, yes. Because, what it actually did, it split La Marque half intwo. And of course, and there are people who did not want to be a part of Texas City. And then La Marque, La Marque didn't want to cut their ---------(?)(?) off either, but half of them, and they could not untie them. So, actually, I got, I was left out of La Marque, where we are. And we, we became part of what they call West Texas City.
MAYFIELD: Do you remember what year that was?
BENFORD: Hmm, no, I really don't. But I know one thing, it was a long time ago.
BENFORD: We can look at the records and find when they incorporated.02:06:00
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: Um, La Marque, and of course, they, annexation of what we call WestTexas City took place just a few days after that.
BENFORD: Texas City had a emergency meeting, commissions, and they took up allthe land La Marque did not incorporate. And we were renamed West Texas City. And there was a lot of hard feelings here, for years. The old-timers, they didn't, they didn't take that too good.
MAYFIELD: So, what, what, so what Texas City did was legal, and--
BENFORD: Yeah, by annexing the territory La Marque out was legal. And eventhough La Marque fought this in court, and all that, they could not undo it. Texas City had a legal right to annex this territory if they wanted it. And they did it. But it split the town. And the old-timers, who, who, here, they, ---------(?)(?) --some of them died who didn't get over that. Hmm, hmm.
MAYFIELD: So, in your neighborhood, did you leave your doors unlocked?
BENFORD: Yes, back in those days. And the church also. We didn't, we didn't lockanything. Nobody worried about, you know, anybody coming in. And when we locked the church house up, you could come in anytime you wanted to, day or night. It, it was back, it was, designed like that. You were neighbors, we looked after one another. We did not lock our doors. We go, we go ---------(?)(?) go, go, go and come back and you'd find things intact. La Marque climate was very, very nice, in those days.
MAYFIELD: So, everybody felt safe.
BENFORD: Yeah, everybody felt safe.
MAYFIELD: Do you recall any, well, you mentioned that the fire from the church,but do you recall any other types of disasters that took place?
BENFORD: Well, not major, because the Texas City blast had taken place in'47. And of course, the Sixth Street area and all that area in 02:08:00there, it was all kind of wrecked and tore up. But nothing else major happened, in our area. And we, I not that I can recall. We had, we didn't have any more explosions, and things like that. If we did have, they were minor.
MAYFIELD: What about hurricanes?
BENFORD: Well, occasionally, we would get one. Back in those days, I don't know,I guess we, people, they, they just ride them out.
MAYFIELD: They stay in their house?
BENFORD: Yeah, stay in your house, and all that. And ride them out. And, and ofcourse, we didn't have a problem of water, either too much. I will recall water being a problem back in those days, but we didn't have a subdivision and things that we got now. So, water seemed to kind of take care of itself.
MAYFIELD: What if someone was ill, or injured, where would they go? What ho--,would they go to a doctor, or a hospital?
BENFORD: Well, we had, in La Marque, we had a little, a clinic. And of course,John Sealy was a major place for illnesses. And there was no hospital out here, on the Mainland for a long drive. And of course, they just depend on local doctors. And when there was, anything was out of their hands, they just refer you to John Sealy. And everybody would go there. And there was quite a, it was problematic in that there was not a lot of transportation to Galveston for hospital near people. And of course, the preacher, the pastor played a big role in getting people to John Sealy and back from John Sealy. And I was like, EMS, ambulance. It was part of my ministry chores to make sure that everybody that needed to go to the doctor would get a ride that didn't have one. And then I would take a load and then I would hang around and see if anybody 02:10:00needed a ride back up here. And that was, that was kind of a part of the preacher's role also.
MAYFIELD: To, to--
BENFORD: Everybody helped everybody.
MAYFIELD: To help when there was an emergency?
BENFORD: Yes. And it was kind of a rare thing. If you had an emergency, we, wewould help try to maybe call a funeral home for an ambulance. And they would come out sometimes and help out, basically, getting called. But most times, people in cars would be the EMS for, for who we had to get out of there real quick, and all that. And there were several families here that had automobiles. They were, but they were not an abundance. And the preacher always kept a horse or a buggy. And if he, and if we knew you had to go and be at John Sealy, Monday, we would give you time to get you down there. And there was always somebody waiting for a ride back. We wouldn't leave without trying to make sure if anybody was going back to the mainland that they got a ride back.
MAYFIELD: You said, in the beginning, you used to keep a horse and buggy?
BENFORD: Well, no. Not horse and buggy. There were some folks that had horsesand buggies out here, though. I knew a lot of folk with livestock. I always tried to keep some kind of old car. And a big one, so we could put, get a lot of folk in it. But there was some folk here on the mainland that did have wagons, and things like that. And they plowed. They had plows and they farmed out here. This land that is now, you know, like, covered with houses, used to kind of be like a little farmland. The folk who were here first, owned like ten acres, five acres, and stuff like that. And, and see, they, but they, they start selling lots to people and that's how this area built up. They used to raise cotton out here, and stuff like that.
MAYFIELD: What kind of car did you drive?02:12:00
BENFORD: (laughs) Well, I've always been, um, General Motors. I, Ihad an old Pontiac. And I drove Pontiacs and I drove Buicks. And the Pontiac and the Buick were big, they were big cars. And I, I needed something that I could always haul a lot of folk in. So, I always tried to buy big car. Because, if you go down and there eight or nine folks trying to get back here, you needed room. And so, I kept an old car like that, and we loaded up and filled it up with people and take them down there and bring them back, and all that.
MAYFIELD: Were you the only one that drove the car? Or did someone else?
BENFORD: Well, everybody else, just about, was working. Everybody that was ableto work, was working. There were a few folk here that were retired. Had their own little hustle, but they were busy. And so, that work fell, generally, on the preacher. The years I served as the EMS for this area, and of course, there was a minister here named F. M. Johnson. He was the pastor at First Baptist Colored. He served as EMS for what we call East Texas City--.
BENFORD: --the business part of Texas City. You see, his area, his area wasdeveloped. Because this area out here was kind of wild, kind of wild, right? And it was growing. And so, our job would be to try to and be real help to one another. And if I would go down and somebody was from East Texas City needing a ride back here, the bus service was kind of, kind of small, and all that kind of stuff. We would make sure that nobody get left. And if anybody did get left, they'd call and they'd find a way to go get them. And it worked out good.
MAYFIELD: So, there was a bus service?
BENFORD: Oh yes, for just the, the general bus line. See, Texas Bus Lines cameout of Houston. And they, they had a depot in Galveston. And of course, but they, you know, they--most times folks tried to operate without 02:14:00the bus lines because they don't want to be ---------(?)(?) at that time, that I said, see I75 was the only route to Galveston. And of course, the bus line would be loaded with people coming to Galveston and going, you know, to and from, and all that. The local people would always try to, have their own way to get there and get back because you never could tell what time you was going to be waited on and things like that. And so, we would just, we, we tried to avoid the bus line itself. It had its own passengers.
BENFORD: And these, these folks, most of them were tourists coming to Galvestonand leaving Galveston, and all that.
MAYFIELD: It was just easier to take, to get transportation with a car fromsomeone in the community.
BENFORD: Yes. Then, see, the car could take you to John Sealy. And see, if youdealt with the bus, you had to kind of, you had to get to the station. Or, if you got on Broadway, and Broadway, Broadway also was a good place. There would be people on Broadway trying to get rides to the mainland. And everybody was nice. If we saw somebody standing in certain areas, we knew they were trying to get a ride. And if they give the thumb, and then we would just stop and ask them where they, where they going. We would bring them back. It was kind of a, a neighbor help neighbor thing. And worked out good.
MAYFIELD: That seems to be a theme in that community, in your community.Neighbor helping neighbor.
BENFORD: Yeah, the, the, the spirit of help was prevalent in those days. In thefifties. You would help. And by the--and they say it was growing fast, fast, fast, fast. And of course, new things were coming. New things were coming. And of course, these, a lot of these little settlements that they had built the city began to kind of move water in and gas in. And it got so it wasn't so hard to get. When I, when I first came here, like I said, you, you do 02:16:00whatever with one water line. And, and if anybody wanted to tie into it, they could tie into if they got the proper tools and stuff. And they carried it to their place, and all that. That's the way it was, at first. But the city began to come move in and bring in sewage. Texas City did. And bring in gas and things like that. And of course, it, it was mandatory when they brought it that you had to tie into it. But, before that, we had to, we used cesspools. And these were special units that they attached to your house. And they were made to handle human waste and then they had, they had three tanks to it like ---------(?)(?). And of course, it would, it would go off out, out into the wasteland.
MAYFIELD: So, the community--
BENFORD: If you got it installed properly.
MAYFIELD: You got it installed--you had a proper installation of, of--
BENFORD: Yeah. Now, when I came here, this, this church had had some sewage andall, but it had gone bad. And so, then we had to, one of the first things we had to do here, was get the proper sewage for the church. And so, when we, there was no sewage. So, we had to get a man that understood how to do cesspools. And his name was Leroy Davis. And he used to, undoubtedly, did it for a living. And so, he came in and gave us a plan whereby he could fix the church's sewage. And he did a marvelous job with it. And it served the parsonage, and it served the church. And of course, the waste, it was a good ways from here. And it didn't bother anybody per se, until the city actually came along with sewage. And then we had to get up and get the proper pipes. And they would tie, they tied us into sewage.
MAYFIELD: I see. Okay. So, the community is growing, how did you, how02:18:00did you get your news?
BENFORD: We listened to the radio. And Texas City had a paper called The DailySun. At one time, they had a paper called the The Daily Sun. And then we had The Galveston News. And we could get the Houston paper. They had The Post and The Chronicle at that time. And you could subscribe to them. So, we had news KGBC at one time, it was very popular, news station. So we listened to KGBC and we took The Daily Sun. And of course, The Sun and The, and The Galveston Daily News were kind of like identical. And so when you got The Sun, you got The Daily News. And of course, we all, everybody would take the Houston paper. And The Post was my favorite paper. And later on, The Chronicle bought The Post. And so, that's where we got our news.
MAYFIELD: Why was The Post your favorite paper?
BENFORD: For some reason, I just liked the way they printed the news. And Ijust, I liked the make-up of it, and all that. I, and I just put it over in the corner here. I really loved it. They, they seemed to tailor the news to me better than The Chronicle. And, and, yeah, I think, well, I know The Chronicle did buy The Post and they combined them.
MAYFIELD: So, The Chronicle, The Houston Chronicle bought The Houston Post?
BENFORD: Yes, they bought The Houston Post out.
MAYFIELD: What, --
MAYFIELD: What--. Did you have a television set?
BENFORD: Finally. After a while and by-and-by. (laughs)
MAYFIELD: What's that? (laughs)
BENFORD: I said, "Finally."
MAYFIELD: What year?
BENFORD: I didn't have one at first, when TV first came out. But in a year orso, I got one. And it was Zenith. And it never did wear out.
MAYFIELD: You had a Zenith television?
BENFORD: I, it was a Zenith TV. It was a named brand. And that TV lasted me foryears, and years, and years. (Mayfield laughs) Black and white. And 02:20:00finally, I just stopped using it.
MAYFIELD: It was still working?
BENFORD: I got a better one.
MAYFIELD: It was still working, but you were, y--
BENFORD: When I, when I stopped fooling with it, it was still showing. And Ibought it, it was used. And I paid fifty dollars for it.
MAYFIELD: Do you remember the year that you bought it?
BENFORD: It had to be in the--, about, fifty--. I bought this, I would say, infifty-five, fifty-six, something like that.
MAYFIELD: Fifty-five, fifty-six? Okay. Is the TV where you got your nationalnews or was that again through the newspapers?
BENFORD: We got from both sources.
MAYFIELD: From both sources.
BENFORD: Yeah, both sources. Yeah, we got it from both sources. And most times,they were in agreement. I think, I think the TV often affected. I mean, the newspapers actually affected what the TV's gave. And then if you had a TV, you'd get first news. But they, they all kind of related to one another. And of course, The Chronicle, The Post and The Chronicle, they carried a wider range of news than the Galveston papers carried.
MAYFIELD: I'm going to switch gears a little bit and talk a little bit aboutwhere you traded. Where you shopped. What were the--
BENFORD: We traded well--. There was a supermarket we, we would call a communitystore, here. It was called Bogatto's.
BENFORD: Yeah. Bogatto's. Bo-gat-to's.
MAYFIELD: Bogatto's, okay.
BENFORD: And there was two or three brothers, and they had a nice little hook-upin La Marque. And everybody shopped at Bogatto's. You also had an automobile franchise. His brother did. And they sold Fords and Chevys. And they had a repair shop, and things like that. And of course, they sold groceries to everybody. And they also carried credit accounts. And of course, many 02:22:00people, you know, they, they had open credit accounts. They would go and buy their groceries, and they'd pay them off at a given date. And they did credit. They did credit. And there was a drug store right beside Bogatto's store. And I think they called it, Sull's. I forget, but think they called it Sull's Drugstore. And of course, they filled all of the medications, and things like that. Kind of like the old community store. And most, and most of your shopping was done there. There might have been one or two dry clothing stores. But most of the time, when folk wanted to shop, they would go to Houston or Galveston.
MAYFIELD: So, sometimes they would--
MAYFIELD: --they would drive to Houston?
BENFORD: Yeah. They had a much wider range of clothes, and shoes, and things, inGalveston. So, you'd, but your groceries and things, most times everybody, everybody shopped at, shopped at Bogatto's.
MAYFIELD: How, how--
BENFORD: There were other stores around here, of course. And, and folk wantedbargains, and things like that. The Bogattos supplied, you know, the area with foods and meats, and things like that. And they did carry credit. And a lot of, a lot of folks had accounts with them. And they would get their stuff. And if they didn't have any money, they would charge it. And they'd pay it on a given date. And that went on forever and forever.
MAYFIELD: So, you had a pretty good relationship with your, with your grocer.
BENFORD: Oh, yes. Yes, being the pastor of the church, and this church had awonderful following. We all, all, the people they, they wanted to know us, and we, we had to know them. And so we got along real good.
MAYFIELD: Oh good.
BENFORD: And of course, there was a lumberyard here called Tharp's Lumberyard,because he wasn't the only lumberyard here. But Tharp's was kind of a home-grown deal. And there was also another lumberyard here. Let's see, it was 02:24:00called, I think it was Blackwell. And they were right down beside Bogatto's. But there, there was several lumberyards. Lumber was a big seller here because folk were building so. And building houses and things, so. But Tharp's was their community lumberyard, so to speak. It was the one that everybody, the old-timers knew about it. He was very, very accommodating, and all. And he would let you have what you wanted and we would get our things from him. And we'd pay him. All of the lumberyards, and places that supplied stuff, would let you have anything you wanted on your word. But, and, and, we, and we would pay them back.
BENFORD: And, and that lumberyard is called Blackmond's.
BENFORD: Yeah. It was, it was on high--, right off of Hwy 3. But all of them waslike family-like. You could get anything you wanted.
MAYFIELD: What was the kind of--, your favorite kind of food to eat?
BENFORD: Well, I was country boy, and--
BENFORD: We just ate the normal stuff, stew meat, crown rolls. (laughs) Andthere were times that we, of course, shrimp and fish were big deals. But most of the time, we caught our own fish. Before the water got polluted, you could almost go anywhere there was water and catch, catch fish at ease. When I first came here, you could catch wonderful fish. Almost anywhere you saw water, but as, as pollution grows well, then the fish got, they got further and further away from us. But fish, crab, the seafood area was a very popular thing with the local folk. And of course, gumbo was kind of a household word, and things like that. Now, there were some folks who came in, who would not necessarily claim the gumbo, and they brought their things. The folk came a good ways 02:26:00back from this place, they liked chili and stews, and things like that. And then some folks did a lot of hunting. Rabbits and things like that. And deer in their seasonal seasons. And of course, wildlife, ducks and things had their certain seasons. And of course, the old-timers, here, they would, they took a lot of pleasure killing Thanksgiving goose and a Christmas goose. And of course, the, as the weather would change, and they would come in, coming from the north, they would come in here. And they would be flying low. But these, these old-timers that lived here, they would be, they would be waiting on them. And of course, they, they had some special guns that were called Long Toms. These were shotguns that had extra, extra-long barrels. And then, but the old-timers around here, they could blow them out of the sky. Because when they come in, they'd come in flying low. And you could hear, you'd think sometimes they'd declared war around here.
BENFORD: And because they'd be popping them. And of course, sometime they'd hitthem here and they'd like pull them out before they fell. And then you had to go locate them and get them, and things like that. And of course, the food you were raised on, you, we got that. But the seafood has always been an attraction in this area. And of course, seafoods are the fish, the crabs, the gumbo. Now, crawfish was not as popular then as it is now. Because they had the crabs. Now, of course, that was what we had. And then that, there was things we were raised on in our own areas. And we, we, we kept our life too. We liked soul 02:28:00food, like pig feet, chitlins, hog heads, hog heads. There were those who knew how to fix those things in a special way.
MAYFIELD: Would you have--
BENFORD: Very tasty.
MAYFIELD: Would you have hog heads throughout the year, potentially, or--
BENFORD: Well, no. It was, most time, for hog heads, it would be, like forChristmas or Thanksgiving area. And they had a deal, some folk would boil them and just eat them, like on New Year's Day. But they also had a deal they called hoghead [hogshead] cheese. They had a way of boiling the hog's head and getting all the meat, skin it, and they would, um, fix it and square it off like cheese. And they'd add vinegar in it, and it's, it's, it's just tasty. It's tasty. But you had to have skills to do it. But the old folks knew how to do it, easy. You sure don't see that, that kind of hoghead [hogshead]cheese now. There's still a few people that may know how to do it. Older folk, they could do it like you take candy from a baby.
MAYFIELD: Was it hog cheese, you said?
BENFORD: No. It's the, it was the whole head. As a matter of fact, there used tobe a time at the, like, at the New Year's, everybody, there's an old custom that you eat pork and black-eyed peas. And our stores would stock hog heads. And they'd have them, they'd have them all around. And folk would go in and buy the whole head. they'd bring it back and then they would boil it and do to it whatever they wanted to do with it. The head of a hog is very, very tasty if you know how to fix it. And they just, and some folk just enjoy eating the head. But, then some folk take the head and boil them and get all of the meat from off of them, then they would make what we call the hoghead [hogshead] cheese. And it was very tasty.
BENFORD: But that was a delicacy. You, they wouldn't pull that until02:30:00like at the end of the year.
MAYFIELD: I see.
BENFORD: New Year's Day and during that season.
MAYFIELD: So, did you have family meals together?
BENFORD: Oh, yes, yes. That was a common thing back in those days. Most familiesate at least one meal together. Even though that was, you know, the great labor rush and scheduling, all kinds of things. But most family's kind of managed to eat together in the evening. The evening meal would be a family meal.
MAYFIELD: Who would, who would be there to eat dinner with you?
BENFORD: When I first came here, I was single. I wasn't married, so I didn'thave a family. And that freed me to do a lot of stuff ---------(?)(?) that I was doing. Later on, I got married. And of course, it was just me and my wife. And sometime family, family would come. Friends. And there were people that we knew didn't fare well, so we'd always come make sure they had a portion, you know, and all that. Plus, I got a lot of invitations, being the pastor of the church. I had a lot of invitations out for special luncheons and things like that. So, eating never was a problem with me. And but I wasn't very large. And so, I wasn't no heavy eater, but I did eat, I did eat faithfully.
MAYFIELD: (laughs) Yes. You're the pastor, of course. I imagine that the churchwas an important influence on your family.
BENFORD: Well, I, I was a committed pastor, but I was also the community leader.And of course, any issue that arose in this community, it got my attention first, because everybody knew that I'd go to the bat for them and help solve it. And get things done. And so, I stayed real busy. Sometimes, day and 02:32:00night. And people freely brought their problems to me. I've been here seventy years, and at the same time, the winds of freedom had begun to blow. And our people started changing their visions, and things like that. And of course, the Martin Luther King begun to kind of pushing for more civil rights and, and equal citizenship for people. And so I got in--, I was very much involved in that. And leading folk and that our people, we had, we, we, we had to get them mobilized so they could become a voting power even though they were a, a minority. And of course, a lot of them were not used to that because they came out of neighborhoods where Blacks didn't vote at all. So, we had to train them that under this new regime, you're going to have to put out. But, we got together and get with the people that we think can do us the most good, and support them. And so, that was quite an ordeal. But the people wouldn't listen. And we ultimately got the mainland into a powerhouse. Now, Galveston already had that. They already had that. But we gradually began to grow so and grow so. And then people, different people had moved here and some of them had an appetite for freedom, and for recognition, and first-class citizenship. With our leadership, my leadership, and other pastors, we began to kind of mobilize, and, and get city to try to do some things to help our people, Black people rise, you know, on a political level. And we did that in two ways. We worked with 02:34:00labor. You know, we find what labor wanted, and work with them. And whoever they thought was good for us, we'd, we'd mold them. Long before we could, we could put anybody Black in office, we would have labor put in office whoever they thought was best for labor. And of course, at that time, the Kempners in Galveston were powerful people. And then of course, when the Kempners gave up the area, he was, he was the representative of the area, Jack Brooks became the representative for this area, Beaumont and La Marque and all that area and we began to work with him. And he was a great political leader and he knew how to work with people. And so, we kind of mobilized out here on the mainland. And we had a precinct here called precinct thirty-eight. No, thirty--, yes, thirty-eight. I believe, no, thirty-six, thirty-six. Because thirty-seven was my area. And about thirty-six had thirty-eight hundred registered voters in it. Blacks. And we had a man named Johnnie Henderson. And he was a lay person, but he had a thirst for freedom and growth and the Black community and all that. And he would work very hard. And he did work very hard to keep us mobilized. And he also worked with labor and lined up behind whatever labor thought was best for us. And then, he had an appetite to see justice done. At that time, if a Black got fired, or something like that, there was nobody to maybe, you know, go to the bat for him, or at least get him heard. And so, Johnnie took it 02:36:00upon himself to form a committee. And I was on it. So, if somebody did get laid off, or fired, or had some misunderstanding, we would go and we would talk with whoever was in charge of the job. And we would try to show the side of the person that we felt had not been treated right. And it became a very successful thing. And we helped good, a lot of folk get their jobs back, and things like that. That was also in our favor. And Johnnie was so good at this kind of a thing until labor kind of adapted him and they hired him, to kind of I guess, just kind of do those kinds of things. And of course, later on, Austin, the AFL-CIO headquarters in Austin. They hired him as a liaison worker to go anywhere they would send him to deal with trouble and problems, and all that. And so, he worked with the city. And we went to the mayor and asked the mayor to give him a furlough and try it for a year. If he couldn't do it, to give him his job back. And of course, Emmett Lowry was mayor then and he agreed. And so, Johnnie did get the job and he became excellent at that. As a matter of fact, there's a building down there, named after Johnnie. They built it in memory of him. Yeah, right across from La Marque High School. That court building, there, is named after Johnnie Henderson, right across from La Marque High School. It's on the left-hand side and La Marque High School is on the right-hand side. They built that building in memory of him. And of course, he worked 02:38:00through the preachers. And of course, I was his, right-hand man. Anything he wanted to do, he'd, he'd bring to the preachers, and we would talk about it and get behind him. And that made him very effective. And of course, you, we don't hear his name much, because so many folk are not aware of the many things we accomplished back in those days. But that building is named after him.
MAYFIELD: Was Mr. Henderson the person in charge of trying to get MainlandCommunity College, the College of the Mainland, um, here in--
BENFORD: --we were, what happened was, when they, when Galveston voted to have ajunior college, everybody was for it, and we were tickled pink to get it, and we all supported it. But at the same time, we recognized that the Galveston Community College was not going to be able to handle the mainland. And so, then labor, and Johnnie, and myself, we said, "We can't depend on Galveston." They didn't have enough room for us and them. So, then we launched a moment to put College of the Mainland where it is right now. And that was no easy job, because at that time, folk were scared of taxes, and, and all that kind of thing. So, we had to sell our people, especially the Black folk, on the idea that we need our own junior college. And Johnnie Henderson, and myself, and Black ministers, we played a major role in getting folk to vote the bond for the college. Johnnie Henderson.
MAYFIELD: So, you, you mentioned voting. Do you remember the first year you voted?
BENFORD: Well, let me see, let me see. Now, there never was a law in Texasenforced where Blacks could not vote. Now, if it's, if, if, if it was 02:40:00so, I, I never heard of it. In Galveston, at one time, was known as the most liberal city in Texas for, you know, Blacks and their rights. And so, even though voting wasn't a popular thing with most Blacks, because most Blacks thought they couldn't vote. And of course, at one time, you had to pay a poll tax to vote. You had to pay a dollar and seventy-five cents. That was the only thing about Texas voting rights, back in those days, you had to buy a poll tax and it cost one dollar and seventy-five cents. And if you had the poll tax, wasn't nobody could tell you that you couldn't vote. My grandmother voted in the thirties. My grandmother, I said, "She was a Choctaw Indian." And, and, but somebody taught them what their rights were and she, as, as she couldn't read and write. But she understood politics and things. And she always wanted and did exercise her right to vote, back in the thirties. And she would do things and make her change and she would buy her poll tax and um, and we would have to go with her down to the courthouse. We were in Vern--, in Vernon, Texas, where I was reared. Um, and she would vote. And so then, so, we knew about voting. And when we came here in Galveston County, we encouraged voting and, we, they, they, they finally abolished the poll tax. And so, you had to register to vote. And I would say my first experience with voting was, eh, was, it was in, in, the early fifties. In the early fifties, we started encouraging and urging folk 02:42:00to register to vote. And it became a very popular thing. And to my knowledge, Texas had never been a state that actually denied Black people the right to vote. But they did have a poll tax, and of course, that was the only problem about it. Some of our folk just couldn't afford it, you know. So, they didn't bother with it. But after they outlawed the poll tax, then we all got behind it a hundred percent.
MAYFIELD: So, how would you inform people about voting? I heard that you had a megaphone.
BENFORD: We would, we would do this. We would find out the people that laborthought was best for working people.
MAYFIELD: I see.
BENFORD: And every year, and we are still doing it, I got a one this year, wewould make out a list of the folk that labor would be encouraging the working folk to vote for. And we would make, I had a mimeograph machine, and I'm making some right now, to vote the slate that labor thought was best for us. And of course, that, that's, that was on the state and national level, you know, and things like that. And then there were local folk that they thought was best for us. Mayors, commissioners. And we would print these, and give these to our folk, and we would have people at the polls passing them out to folk who would come and let them know who we thought would do us the most good. And we still do that. As a matter of fact, I got one here now. I'm making some and we get them out through the Black Ministers Alliance. The Black Ministers Alliance. And we've always followed labor's cue on who was best for us because all of our folk work for a living. And we still do it. 02:44:00
BENFORD: And even now, I'll make up a list of, a recommended list of people torecommend to people to vote for until I go by and, and talk with labor, and I get their slate. And we take their slate and we kind of line it up. And then, we also got our local slate, mayor, the mayor, commissioners, and the county people. And that's the way we do that.
BENFORD: That's what we do.
MAYFIELD: So, you, you get behind the labor groups that really support the community--.
BENFORD: --Yes. We want to work together. We've always worked together.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: And then, finally, we started getting a few people involved. And they'drun. And labor has always been very kind to anybody we thought that could serve. And we have elected people in Galveston County, in the, uh, boy, we've had great success here. We've had great success, even elected Blacks for office here.
MAYFIELD: Having, having Blacks in the city government, then.
BENFORD: Yes. And, county-wise. And then, we, we used to run folk for citycommissioners, but everything was at-large. We never could win anything. We'd get a lot of votes, but we couldn't beat nobody because we were a minority. So, finally, we got the, we decided to file suit and we got them to draw district lines, so we would have a chance. And we started putting people in.
MAYFIELD: I see.
BENFORD: And that same thing applied to the school board. There was a time thatthere was nobody, no Blacks on the school board at, at all. And, of course, this was in La Marque, and that's, and that's, I'm in La Marque district. And of course, then we went to work. And we put a Black man on the school board. Because the, the Black folks were in a majority in the La Marque district. Years ago, when it was unheard of. 02:46:00
MAYFIELD: Do you remember what year that was?
BENFORD: I don't. I'd have to get the record. His name was George K. Drake. Dr.George K. Drake. He was the first Black man to be elected to a school board. Maybe he was the first to serve in Texas. George K. Drake.
MAYFIELD: Mr. Drake.
BENFORD: Hmm, hmm.
MAYFIELD: So, I would imagine that, um, the pastors along with the, the laborrepresentatives were sort of the more important people in your community, related to--
BENFORD: They still are.
MAYFIELD: --civil rights.
BENFORD: They still are.
MAYFIELD: They still are.
BENFORD: They still are. Now, understand, we had an excellent group of men.Black. And they followed leadership. And of course, I did the leading. I'm the oldest pastor. They say, active pastor in the world, at one church. And the World Book of Geniuses, whatever you call it. They are looking that up. I've been here, seventy years.
BENFORD: And of course, yeah. And of course, --
MAYFIELD: The World's Record.
BENFORD: We have always combined with labor. And worked with the folks that canhelp us. And we've got some great things done. And, you need to know the people, the Black people, that have served in Galveston County, in county offices, and city offices, and things that we actually put in there.
MAYFIELD: Can you name some of them. I'm, I know that you mentioned Mr.Henderson. You mentioned Jack Brooks, but who can you name--and you, can you name other individuals? 02:48:00
BENFORD: Yes. Well, now, T. B. Armstrong of Galveston. He was a real estate manand a druggist. And he, I think might have been the first Black city commissioner in Galveston. And of course, in all the county-wise level we've had Wayne Johnson. How is Wayne? He was the first Black county commissioner. And then we had Gerald Burkes. He was the first Black treasurer for Galveston County. And we had, oh my gosh, that uh, I think her name, Sophonia Thompson. She was city tax assessor. We, I can get those things, those names for you. And then, I mean, they actually served in this county. And those facts are being suppressed. You see, when, when the, there was a time that we handled our own Juneteenth. But now a crowd got in office, and they sort of took that out of our hands and they, and so then, they got their agenda. And when they got their agenda, they don't point out the accomplishments of Blacks in this area. And they don't build the grassroots folks. I'm grassroots. There's not a lot of us, but I'm grassroots. And so, we don't get a chance to even tell our folk that, you know, who they are, and what they've done. And how many elections they've decided for precinct thirty-six for, for state and you know, county-wide folk, and all that stuff. And so, they invite, they invite people here that don't even know us. And they don't even put us on a program for the parade, or nothing like that. So, I don't fool with it. And they come, and they, they'll even 02:50:00not talk about it. Because we about, we think about kind of taking it back. And our folk are--. The folk that are in Galveston County now are not aware of what has been done already by Blacks, and labor, and other good white people working with us, and what we've done already. And so, don't, don't nobody mention it. And folks being invited don't even know it.
BENFORD: I've been kind of silent in that area. And in those areas, but we havedone some great things in Galveston County.
MAYFIELD: Could you share some?
MAYFIELD: Could you share some stories?
BENFORD: I brought Head Start to Galveston County. I brought government HeadStart to Galveston County. I was in Austin, Texas at a state convention. It was kind of a fall day, and a man, his name was Professor Calhoun. And he said, he, he asked if I would like to ride out and see his daycare. And I wasn't doing anything. And I said, "Yeah, I'll ride." So, I rode out with him, and he had two beautiful buildings. And uh, had little boys and girls in there. And, and they called it daycare. Now, they had daycare in Galveston, but it was ran by the rich white ladies and things. So, the maids and things, had somewhere to raise their children, they had to have, you know, garage sales, and somebody would donate this. And you know, there was always a question about the funds to pay the staffs and all that. The had one, but the funds was not sure. So, this man explained to me that this, this daycare was sponsored by the 02:52:00government. See, when civil rights broke loose, the government turned loose a whole lot of programs for Black people. And they had a book they called a civil rights bible, showing you all the programs that were available to us since they declared, you know, the Civil Rights Act. So, this Mr. Calhoun, he said, "You can have one of these." I said, "I can get this?" And he said, "Yeah, and it won't cost the community nothing." They had a thing called C-A-C, Community Action Council, where they gave, they gave out millions of dollars to every area to have things that you didn't have before. And of course, the government sponsored Head Start was in this book, and you had to write a proposal. And that was quite a job for, if you didn't know what you were doing. And for, and ask for the money, and you'd explain what your light bill cost, what your staff would cost, what your building would cost, and all that kind of stuff, you know, food, and all that, you know. And they'd give you a grant for so many, a hundred, you know, a million or whatever you needed. If they approved it, you'd get that and then you were bound by what the, what your budget called for. So, he explained it to me as to how this operated.
Now, back home, here in Galveston, we were struggling. And everybody would chipin, and we'd try to make sure we had enough money to, you know, to take care of the boys and girls. And that was only in Galveston County. I mean, in Galveston itself, the seat of Galveston. So then, I had been a part of CAC, and so, when I got this information from him, I brought it back to Galveston, here. And so, I told them about it. And they laughed. They had never heard of that. I 02:54:00mean, nobody had heard of it. And they thought I was off my rocker. I had a lady in my church. Her name was Mary Crowder. So, we wrote Washington, D.C. And we asked for this book that had all the programs that explained to us what we were entitled to since civil rights had been declared. And we found it. And sure enough, they had a program designed called uh, it came under the heading of CAC, and of course, there was an organization in Galveston called Central Day Care. And these were these ladies, Miss Thompson, Nora Thompson, and all that crowd, and the Kempner's, and it was four or five powerful women, you know, wives of rich guys in Galveston. And they sponsored that. And they raised funds themselves. And they always got it done, but it was quite a task. So, when I came back and told them that, I said, "You all don't have to do that no more." I said, "The government is." I said, "We can get this, and the government will send us a budget covering the whole year." We only had one in Galveston. And so, they kind of brushed it off. And so, then they told me in so many words, --well said, if that can be done, you you know, you work it out and we'll look at it. In the meantime, when we saw it in this book, we knew it was true. And Mary Crowder, she was a graduate of Prairie View College. And she was a very, very smart lady. And she didn't have nothing to do but just, you know, study, and that good thing. So, we started to really kind of work on it. And we 02:56:00got the confirmation this program was a reality and it could be done. So, then, the Galveston people, they kind of got interested in it a little bit. And nobody knew how to write a government proposal.
BENFORD: Nobody knew how. They got folk that do it now for a living. But thiswas in the early beginning. So, then, they fi--, they found a lady, --------(?)(?) I can't recall her name, but she had red hair. I can't pronounce her name now. She took the task of writing the first proposal for Galveston County for government sponsored Head Start. And so, she didn't really know much about it either. And she worked with it, and she worked with it, and she worked with it, and she worked with it, and finally, she just actually left it alone. But Miss Crowder, Mary Crowder, she was Black, she kept on fooling with it, and she finally caught the hang of it. And we had a retired teacher here, named Ruth Shannon Hicks. She taught school for, for La Marque High, for Lincoln High School. She had retired and she came and she joined Miss Crowder in trying to put this proposal together. And they worked, and they worked, and they worked, and they worked, and they worked. And finally, they got everything they needed to offer a proposal to have government sponsored Head Start in Galveston County. And of course, it was for--, well, it, it would be for the county. They only had one, they only had one in Galveston that, that they sponsored. And 02:58:00of course, the one that they proposed, it was going to be for Galveston, Texas City, uh, let's see, Dickinson. It would be four all together. And they wrote this proposal. And of course, Galveston would have the most kids. You could have fifty kids in each one, but Galveston would have, I think, about ninety-six. They had double the amount. But, in the meantime, the Galveston people wanted to put all the centers in Galveston. And of course, that wasn't in good taste. And because it came out of Rising Star Church, they put my name on it. And of course, they, and so they said, that if, if I didn't sign it, they couldn't get it like that, because we were trying to get one in, in La Marque and, and what we call La Marque. And we were trying to get one in Hitchcock. And one in Dickinson, you know. And of course, one in Galveston, also. We didn't mind them having the biggest one. And so, I was told not to sign it and they couldn't get it. So, when they found they couldn't get it, we just put them all in Galveston. Then they came back, and we agreed that we were going to have one here, too. And we could have one in Dickinson. And could have one in Hitchcock. There were four cities. Four, including Galveston, would have one. And of course, that, that meant a location, and a place, and all that. And of course, I gave the Rising Star Church, this church we are at right now, as an in-kind donation for a school. And that meant that all the rent, and all that kind of stuff, that we would pay for it. I mean, you, we wouldn't charge them for it, 03:00:00because they, they had to be, independent. They had to pay their rent, utilities, you know, and do their own repairs. But I gave this church as an in-kind donation and that freed up more money to pay teachers with, and things like that.
MAYFIELD: I see.
BENFORD: And ultimately, we got one here. And it stayed here, fourteen years.And they got put in other places, locations. And of course, I got off the CAC board and I began to work with Central Daycare, the original one they had in Galveston. And served, I served as a board member. And this program involved parents. If you had a child in school, you had to come to faculty meetings, and you, you, they, they made the parents come and study and do things. And it was a--, and it's still a great program. They aren't doing it like they used to, though. But you couldn't have a child in daycare if you, if the parent, if you didn't attend, and study, and learn other things to help improve your child also. And that program worked here, successfully, for fourteen years.
MAYFIELD: That's a, amazing accomplishment.
BENFORD: Yeah. And of course, but ultimately, the budget got so big, until they,we became an object of envy. So, CAC wanted to take over the Central Daycare. And they got a, they got a duration(??) and fooled around, and fooled around, fooled around, and, and chop, they kept chopping us. And finally, they jumped, jumped on us big time. And we had a great big battle, and all that kind of stuff. And they got it away from us. And then the school district saw something in it also. And so then, ultimately, they kind of took it away from CAC and now the schools get that money. 03:02:00
BENFORD: They sure do. I don't keep up with it no more, once they took it awayfrom us and all. But I brought it here. And of course, I know the folks, and, and the people that are using it, they don't even know how it got here. And had it not been for Miss Mary Crowder and Ruth Shannon Hicks, and of course that first lady, she did a great job, but she just didn't know what she was doing. And she, yeah, she just finally quit. But Miss Shannon and Miss Crowder put that proposal together and got it like they wanted. And then we gave it to Miss Kempner and that crowd. They sent it to Washington, D.C., and of course, at that time, she, uh, their folk worked there. Kempner, and Jack Brooks, and all of them. And that thing passed with flying colors. And we got that grant and they been getting it ever since. Now CAC don't have it anymore. It's now under the schools. The independent school district got it. And they get all the money, but they don't make the folk do what they ought to do. They just take it and they just do. They carry it on, but they, the parents don't be involved. The kids be involved in it. And to me, that was a, and still is, one of my greatest accomplishments here.
MAYFIELD: That was going to be one of my questions, actually.
MAYFIELD: That was going to be one of my questions, actually.
BENFORD: Yes, now, the folks don't know how they got it. You know, but that'show it got here. I brought it here and everybody thought it was a joke at first. Till they read it in that book. And then, then, and then they sent me a pamphlet called Washington, D.C., "The Rights of The Poor". I still got some. I just got to locate them because it's been so many years. But I've made, and everywhere would I go to talk for different things, I gave everybody a copy of 03:04:00what they said in Washington, D.C., the poor were entitled to. I'm going to go back and dig up one of them things.
MAYFIELD: Yeah, that would be, --
BENFORD: I'm going to dig up one. I know we got them. I know we got them--
BENFORD: --because I always kept them, and down through the years and sometimesnow when I go into a barrio or something. I pass everybody a copy out. And it come, it came from Washington, D.C., in the early stages of the civil rights and they tell everybody what the poor are entitled to do.
BENFORD: And it tells, it gives our rights as poor. I am going to go to work onthat and get them located.
MAYFIELD: What about the civil rights bible?
MAYFIELD: What about the civil rights bible? Do you still have it?
BENFORD: Well, now that, I'm sure it's still in existence.
MAYFIELD: Hmm. I'm going to have to--
BENFORD: I'm sure it's still in existence. And of course, if we dig because it'sbeen many, many years ago. We probably might can locate the one we had here. And of course, there were a world of programs that they put in existence. There used to be a time that the College of the Mainland ran bus services for boys and girls, just like the schools do. And they picked up boys and girls who were enrolled and carried them to school and brought them back home. There were three buses, free transportation to anybody going to the College of the Mainland.
MAYFIELD: So, anybody going to school at The College of the Mainland had freebus service.
BENFORD: Back in those days, see, back in those days, see folk didn't havetransportation. They bought, they had transportation to pick boys and girls up, carry them to College of the Mainland, bring them back home at no, at no, no charge.
MAYFIELD: So, I want to ask you a little bit about, again, these civil rights.We were sort of touching on that. And I was curious, who was the important Black national figures at the time? 03:06:00
BENFORD: Okay, but please repeat that, so, I can get it.
MAYFIELD: Who were the important Black national figures at the time?
BENFORD: At this time?
MAYFIELD: Yeah, during the civil rights movement.
BENFORD: Well, we got a variety. Let me see. It's kind of hard. It's kind ofhard because Jesse Jackson was our man. He has Parkinson's Disease and he's not active. He's not a speaker. He was a great--, I had him here twice.
MAYFIELD: Jesse Jackson?
BENFORD: Jesse Jackson's been to this church. He has spoken two times at thischurch. And it was and they had to have police to hold the folks back. He's been here to me. I'd call him right now, and, and he'll talk to me. He was a true-blue civil rights worker. I didn't never know much about Al Sharpton. I understand he seems to me, he's active and got his health and he's still kind of, you know, uh, going and all. But I do think that Jesse Jackson is doing more on accident than he's doing on purpose. And they both doing good. But Jesse, physically, is kind of out of it. But even now, Jesse Jackson is working with big corporations and getting them to allow our people to take, change and develop things and make things go. And one notable thing that he did, Jesse Jackson did for us, he got the Coca-Cola Bottling Company to allow Blacks to take franchises and work them and develop them. And the Coca-Cola 03:08:00Bottling Company did do it. And right now, in Florida, the state of Florida, the cokes that are made in the state of Florida?
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: That organization is under the chain of, of five Black people. Andbecause these are, these are boys that finished Harvard, and things like that. They know what they're doing. And they're doing great works. And that's the kind of work he's doing now. He's trying to fix ways so that Blacks can, deserving Blacks, qualifying Blacks, can get in on those kinds of things.
MAYFIELD: So, back in the day, Jesse Jackson was an important speaker for the--
BENFORD: Well, --
MAYFIELD: --for the Civil Rights Movement?
BENFORD: He was the uh, after Dr. King died, Jesse Jackson, did carry the ball.And of course, even now, even though he has a physical ailment, he's still a powerful factor in the civil rights movement. And of course, Al Sharpton became a voice. I am not aware of any of the, uh, any programs he is working that will do us any good. But he is a voice of protest against injustice and things like that. And of course, I'm sure there are other people that are playing roles. And we got some attorneys and that are playing roles and right now, I would not say there was a--. I would not know the peak of the best we have to go. I know that there are a lot of voices that are crying for us and all. But I guess I would have to say Al Sharpton, he does a great job of, you know, revealing 03:10:00and uncovering, and all that.
MAYFIELD: He's doing that now. That Al Sharpton.
BENFORD: Yeah, right now. And he has a NASA TV program and that gives him a lotof coverage and all. And so, I do listen at him. I do listen at him, and all.
MAYFIELD: How was it? Can you tell me what it was like being African American inTexas City at the time of segregation?
BENFORD: Oh, I. You, you, where was the what now?
MAYFIELD: Can you tell me what it was like being African American at the time ofsegregation in Texas City?
BENFORD: At the time of segregation, we were a subject. We had no, no real legalrights. We were at the mercy of the boards, and all of them. There was none of us on the boards. If we wanted something done, we would have to appeal to somebody on the board that would take our case and do something with it. And of course, there was always the Black school principals. And of course, they would always try to hire a school principal that would kind of dance by their music and wouldn't carry things too far. He knew how far to carry things, and of course, we had a man here named P. S. Simms. And he became the foremost Black school principal for La Marque High, for La Marque Colored School. They had a high school and La Marque High School and La Marque Colored School. And he stayed here for years, and of course, the educational system sort of, kind of, built around him. But he was, maybe sheepish-like. And he wasn't 03:12:00aggressive. And he always found a way to get along. And there were some that didn't even like his mannerism. Now, when I came here, he was here. And of course, I worked with him. And I stood by him. And I served him just like I served Johnnie Henderson. And that was a time when I had great re--. The Black preacher had great rapport in the schools. They had chapel twice a week. And they would invite one of us to come. And we'd hold the prayer and things like that. And we would, and we talked to the boys and girls about morals, and staying out of trouble, and things like that. And of course, we didn't need it. And we always had the baccalaureate service. That's when they, that's when they finished. And we would bring in somebody that could motivate, and preachers, inspire. And we'd have a worship service. We still have it. We still have it. We still have it. I don't think we had it this year, though. This is the first year, I've been here seventy years, because of the pandemic. I don't, we, we didn't have anything. Had the year before that. And we still carry that on. But that was, uh, they, but they controlled the schools through the principals and of course, we had a, we had a Black Ministers Union here.
MAYFIELD: Was that con--
BENFORD: It was called--it was called--
MAYFIELD: Was that called the Black Coalition of Pastors?
MYAFIELD: Was that called the Coalition of Pastors?
BENFORD: Are you asking me did the, uh, were they pastors? Were we the ones thatdealt with the school board?
MAYFIELD: Yeah, did, so, you had the--
BENFORD: Yeah, we dealt with the Black pastors and community, thecommunity leaders, outspoken people who had intellect and all that, and retired 03:14:00teachers. We would find committees and ways to go forward and most times a Black pastor would lay out the problems. And then they'd work with them, and in most cases, things would work out almost to what we wanted. Locally, and all that. We tried not to fuss, and yet we did have a lot of dog fights, here, in this district, on a lot of things. Now, I served on the committee, and I'm proud of this also, to integrate Texas City High School and the community, and the La Marque High School and the community. And the amazing thing is, that Texas City integrated before La Marque did. I was in La Marque High School district and we-- (noise interference) We got a lot of things done. But Texas City actually integrated on their own. And they had seven men on the committee. I was the only Black on the committee to integrate Texas City High School. And they asked me to come. And there was a doctor. His name was Dr. Green. He was a surgeon. And he, that's all I can remember right now. He was on the committee. And they were very, very kind to me. And this, these were tedious times. But nobody ever intimidated me. Nobody ever spoke down to me. And I was allowed to express myself as I wanted to. And so then, they called me in and they asked me, should they integrate Booker T. Washington, that was the Texas City High School with the La Marque High, uh, La Marque High, I mean Texas City High School. And I told them yes because Booker T. Washington School wasn't big as a 03:16:00barn. But they had great spirit and things like that. And I said, "There's no way in the world they can have high school there in that small space." And, and they agreed. They said, "Well, we thought so." And they said, "Now, what we going to do with the faculty?" I said, "Well", I said, "you need to find ways to work Blacks in on your faculty. Because, when Black children look up, they need to see a Black face." They need to know there's somebody there that knows me, at least. I said, "Y'all can't go bringing folks from other places they don't even know and that don't know them." You know and do away with the Black instructors and all. And of course, there were times, there was a time that, that they felt like that maybe some of the Black instructors were not all together qualified to teach. And I said, "Well", I said, "I think you're wrong about that." I said, "Now, everybody you see, everybody you see in a Black school that's teaching, pretty much, they do a good job." And so, they got over that. I said, "Those, those people need to be brought." I said, "And, and boys and girls need to just see somebody that they know, in school." And so, they worked it out. And they, and there was a, uh, they had a principal over there. (laughs), hot dog his name is gone from my mind now, as well as I knew it. He was principal of Booker T. Washington High School. And they gave him a job. He wasn't a principal, but he was kind of over something, you know, that kind of had to do with integration. Oh, God, I'd like to recall his name. It will come to me in a minute. But and they worked them all in. And I said, "Nah", it just wouldn't do to just for you to go eliminate the Black faculty, and expect our boys and girls come over there and be comfortable. They need just to see somebody they can smile at and that know them. And so they integrated. And they had also integrated the 03:18:00drug stores, the theaters. We did it all at the same time. Now, they had some protesters and things like that, and some little things, but they hadn't done it. But when we did it and of course, when we, and I endorsed it, and all that. Texas City actually integrated the schools and all their open places.
MAYFIELD: So, Texas City by itself, integrated pretty quickly.
BENFORD: Yes, they did. And they, and there was no controversy. I mean, theyagreed to do this.
MAYFIELD: Why do you think so?
BENFORD: Without a fight. See, there was, now, we all knew they were reserved,they were, ahhhmmm, now, we all knew that. And we never expected them to integrate before La Marque.
MAYFIELD: Who, what--
BENFORD: Because we had one, at one time, we'd had a Black school where only inLa Marque, and a thing like that. And then, and then, then we were active in affairs over the years. But Texas City integrated before La Marque did.
MAYFIELD: Why, why do you think--
BENFORD: And it went through as smooth as butter.
MAYFIELD: Why, why do you think that happened?
BENFORD: Well, they started out right. They got; they asked me to be on thecommittee. And because, I've been, I've, I've been very active in this commu--, in this community. Everybody in that town, in this town, at that time, knew me and they knew I knew what I was doing. We, and we had had so many successful things to happen and so, uh, and when I told the Black community that this is fair and equal, we got do our part and they got to do their part. And of course, if we don't do our part, they going to squeal. And if they don't do their part by us, we going to squeal. And they knew it. And that, and, and that, and that to my knowledge, there's never been any complaint about how Texas City integrated schools, and the lunch counters, and everything else. All that stuff became legit and worked out smooth. And of course, I knew those men, 03:20:00the only one I can recall was Dr. Green. Dr. Green's passed away too. But I served on it and hammered it out.
MAYFIELD: Were there any people fighting against, I mean segregation--
BENFORD: To my knowledge, if there were any folk protesting it, we didn't hearit. There might have been some private people, but nobody ever challenged what we were doing, publicly. It never reached the press, or nothing like that. Now, there might have been some disgruntled folk, but they, they did, they did it without a complaint.
MAYFIELD: How, how--
BENFORD: And it worked out perfectly.
MAYFIELD: How did it compare with La Marque then?
BENFORD: Well, La Marque's integration came out of a controversy. We'd had,oh, kind of scuffles and battles, with the La Marque school board. And of course, uh, and a lot of things that we, when, and when we didn't like things, we would go down, and we'd protested, and all that, you know. And so, we had a teacher here, and her name was Rosa Jones. And she was a pioneer teacher in, in the Black school here. And she was also sort of a semi-community leader, and she played the piano for the churches. And she was well-known and well-loved by everybody. (laughs) But she got her age mixed up some kind of way. And actually, they wanted to retire her. And of course, I don't know how she got her application mixed up. And so then, they kind of got onto her about it. And it 03:22:00became a community fight. And she was so well-loved by the Black in the community, until they kind of stood with her. And we went down and had a community meeting. They, you know, they let her go. And we went down and protested. We, but we didn't, I, we didn't know she was as old as she was. And she had turned in several applications and her age was different blah, blah, blah. And that's how they caught onto her, I guess. Anyway, when that thing, really, really, really, really reached its peak, I guess there was maybe a thousand folk. We met at the old La Marque High School, and in the auditorium, I didn't even try to go down to the front, there were so many people, because they were trying to defend Miss Jones. And of course, when they, when they whipped out the information they had, we found out that she was a little older--
BENFORD: --than she had said "She was." And naturally they, I don't know ifthere was a law that you couldn't teach after a certain age or what, I really don't know, but I do know that she had lied about how old she was--
MAYFIELD: Oh, hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: --on her applications. And it was base enough for them, you know, torelease her. So, we were defeated in, in, in saving her job. We were just trying to save her job because we loved her. And she knew how to work with children. And she was a typical throwback to the kind of a teacher and community leader that Blacks needed. And she served so many. She wore so many hats in the community. She was kind to old folk and stuff like that. And she played the piano for churches and stuff like that. And she would do things with the boys and girls out of the ordinary, you know. And she was just loved. But 03:24:00when, when we were, when they confronted her with the facts that she was older than she had said she was. We had to tuck our tails.
MAYFIELD: Oh, yep.
BENFORD: And because we didn't know, we, we didn't know she was that old. But,in the meantime, in the meantime, while this was going on, it was such a fight. The school erupted here, I mean, for days. The kids weren't even in school here. The kids walked out of school. For days, there were no Black children in the Black schools over here because that's just how much she was loved and all that. And somebody, it certainly wasn't me. I think it was somebody ---------(?)(?) said "Why don't we just go on and integrate these schools and stop all this stuff." Because we had had a, we had had a problem here. Principal Simms died. And he was, and he was well-loved, well-loved by white and Black. And of course, they hired another guy named, T. J. Jackson, he's dead now, as principal. No, they didn't hire Jackson. They tried to put a white principal over Lincoln High School. They called it Lincoln High School. It's called La Marque High School now, but the name of that, the school at that time, was Lincoln. And they did put a white man over Lincoln School, and of course, that was a slap in the face to Black community. And so, we didn't really know what to do to break it up, uh, stop it. But they knew we were going to do something. So, I called a 03:26:00meeting at this church and that was on a Friday. And about a hundred and some odd people came, and we met in our cafeteria. But we didn't really meet for that. We met about something else. And of course, they had their, they had, they had their spy system. And every time we held a meeting, they'd send somebody to see who it was, and blah, blah, blah. So, they sent a white preacher, whose name was Bob Baxter, and he was a pastor, I think of the Presbyterian Church, that church on Lake Road that got that high tower to it. That's where he pastored. But Bob was a good guy, and he was friendly, and he and I were buddies, and all that. And um, but they sent him down to see what was going on. They didn't know what was going on. And so, I, but I would always watch outside when they were there having a meeting because it, we had had a lot of threats. And every time we'd meet, you know, there was a crowd, and the city's going to blow us up, and blah, blah, blah. And so, I would always keep watch. And, and you know, so I was out, I saw Bob turn the corner on the street, he turned on Andrews Street and went down Andrews Street and he came back. And he was just gazing, and looking, and trying to find out what he could find out. But there was nothing he could find out. And so finally, he kept on doing it until we dismissed the meeting. And of course, he was making a fast little trip through there. And so, he saw me. And so, when he saw me, I waved at him and he turned around, and he was driving a little Volkswagen car, came back to me. And of course, I said, "Yeah, we had a meeting this morning." And of course, naturally, he didn't know what for, but he didn't have the nerve to ask. And so, I told him, that we met to discuss the fact that they had a white principal over Lincoln High 03:28:00School. And I told him that the Black community was not going to stand for it. And I told him that if, that white principal wasn't away from there, that was on a Friday, by Monday, we were going to come to the streets. And that's one thing they did not want. And so, he left here. He left us. He left this church. He turned on two wheels and he went downtown and told them what I said. And of course, I told him that nobody was going to talk with him but me. And so, then that Friday later on, I went down to the administrative building. I think Dr. Tinney was superintendent then. And he said, "You know, he said, Reverend, I know y'all are unhappy about us." I let him know we were not going to stand for this. You aren't going to put no white principal over that school. And so, Dr. Tinney said, "Well, we don't know where to find a Black principal." I said, "You can call Prairie View College, you can call any Black college." I said, "And they can tell you somebody that could serve as principal, that's qualified." I said, "They got people, students, and all that." And I said, "All you got to do is call and tell them that you are looking for somebody qualified to be principal of Lincoln High School." I said, "Then you can get somebody." In the meantime, he was just whining. He said, "We just don't know anybody. I said, "Well, I'll tell you what." I had known a man; his name was Ralph Allen. I knew Ralph Allen when he was a boy. He's from Lufkin, Texas. His mom was a schoolteacher at Dunbar High School in Lufkin. And of course, Ralph 03:30:00was a great football player. His name was a household word in that town, and he was just loved by everybody. And so, he finished Dunbar, and he went to a college called Texas College in Tyler, Texas. So, I kept up with him. And when he finished Texas College, he came back and he became the principal of Dunbar School in Lufkin, where he was raised. And I'd heard a lot about him and how good he was. And he had great principal qualities, and discipline, and he knew how to handle our folk. And I said, I said, "I know a man that y'all might could get if you call him and talk to him." And so, naturally, he said, "Who?" And I said," You call Lufkin, Texas and tell them you want to talk to Ralph Allen." I said, "I know him." I said, "He can handle this school, too." So, he called Lufkin, in my presence, and asked to speak to Ralph Allen. And they told him that Ralph didn't work there anymore. That Ralph had moved to Nacogdoches, twenty miles away. And he was, he was over there, employed. And so they gave Dr. Tinney Ralph's phone number. So then, Dr. Tinney called Ralph, in my presence, and told him who he was. And told him, that I had mentioned him as being a competent principal and all. And that they were interested in, in seeing about getting him to work for the La Marque Independent School District. And this district, at that time, was one of the highest paying districts in, in the country. And everybody knew that. So, he asked them, what kind of salary range would you get? And they gave him an idea. So, we can work with you. And so, he made an appointment with them. And he came down here. And he was just 03:32:00what they were working for. And that's how Ralph Allen, who stayed here till he died, died a few days ago, uh, got to La Marque. And he didn't know, himself, how he got here. I didn't tell him. I wasn't the one who told him about it. But he took over and he brought everything back to Lincoln High School. And Lincoln High School, and he controlled it. The boys and girls loved him. Oh, he was like a father to everybody. And so, that's how he got here. But I'm the cause of him being here, but I never did tell him. About, maybe, four or five years before he died, they used to have a program with the county hospital on Fridays with Black history. And we put him on to speak. And he got up at the podium, and he did a marvelous job, and the folk applauded him. I was presiding. And so, I said it with him, that I was the one that told Dr. Tinney about him. I let him know I had known him from a boy. I never did see him, I just heard about him. His reputation is, you know, and I really did this and did that and I'm the one that gave them his name and his number. And he liked to fainted. And I was there when they called him. But I never told him I did it because I didn't want him to you know feel beholding to me or nothing like that. And so, he knew about five years before he passed away that's how he got here. But I'm the one, I'm the reason he came because I shared with Dr. Tinney. And Dr. Tinney took my word on him and got him. I've done a lot of things around here. And of course, I don't crow or nothing like that. I just kind of stayed in the background. And that's also something else I'm proud of, because he brought everything back to the school that it needed. And for years, he served as principal. And he worked with the community and with them. He had the respect of everybody. And so Texas City integrated. And then finally, La Marque integrated, and we got 03:34:00together and, and they asked me to do the same thing, same thing Texas City did. And they wanted to know what was important to us, and all that. And I shared the thing with them that we would, you know, we would want an integration. Same thing I told Texas City. We want fair play. There's two sides to everything. And if boys and girls get into it, let the facts speak for themselves, you know. And we know we got to have a punishment system, but let's don't put nobody, nothing on nobody that can't handle them, you know, and just give them stuff like that. And we wanted, you know, employment of our people because there was a tendency to, to fire all the Blacks when they'd integrate schools. And we said, "We want our people to have a chance to teach and work." And our boys and girls need to see, you know, some of our faces when they come in these schools.
MAYFIELD: Can you tell me--
BENFORD: So, they agreed to that.
MAYFIELD: Can you tell me what year this all took place?
BENFORD: Well, the year, I really can't do that because, but it, it won't behard to find out because all you got to do is call and ask for the records. And they can give them to you. And Dr. Tinney, when he was superintendent and all that. And I, and I think this did take place when he was superintendent. And of course, Tinney and I used to fight, but we got along too. We never did fight to the death or nothing like that. And so, but we can get the dates. We can get the dates.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: Yeah. We can get the dates. I got a friend, a boy that I raised, namedJames Daniels. He's doing the same thing now that Johnnie Henderson used to do. And he goes all around the United States and settles disputes and stuff like that. And I raised him. When I came here, he was two years old. And he grew up in this church. And he's a very, very wise person. And I'm going to 03:36:00ask him all about the years because he knows all the years. He was kid when everybody walked out of the Lincoln School behind Rosie Jones, and all that. And so, but he, he can help me with the dates, but I can get those dates for you.
BENFORD: I'll let him know the dates and then, and of course, then it was a lotof things going at the same time. We integrated the schools. They hand-picked boys and girls out of Lincoln to come to La Marque High School. And of course, the great, the great fear was that negroes could not do English. And that was not true. We had a girl named Iva Turner, and another girl named Marie Moore, and there was another girl, and they belonged to this church. They went over there. They sent eight of the best students they had over there, kind of like on a trial basis to handle. And then they handled things real good. And all three of those girls went to the University of Texas when they finished La Marque, Lincoln, La Marque High School then.
MAYFIELD: So, you're saying that it's sort of the integration took place inchunks, right? So, the first time, for the first part of the integration, there were eight students?
BENFORD: Well, no, I'm not saying that. But these boys and girls were picked,you know, from, I guess, I suppose our teachers picked them and they sent them over there. It was just folk talk that negroes could not do English, and all that. But these three girls, these, especially, these three, they were outstanding in English. And that at no time were they stumped by La Marque High School English or College English. They went to UT and they finished UT, and all that, and then they, but they, but they was like our, our, some of 03:38:00our best students. They sent, uh, they integrated. They integrated high school first. And when they found that our boys and girls could really handle it, and they just integrated the whole thing. But they, it was kind of like a trial basis. It wasn't no partial thing, but that was one of the great issues, could negroes do or understand English. They can get the, you know, English books that were in the curriculum then. And of those three, it was eight of them. And they proved that they could. I mean, they were watched. And they passed that test, and they got it going, you know, real good. And of course, there were sometimes there was tension in the schools. And we were all called on to volunteer and walked the halls. And I did my share to keep boys and girls from scrapping. And of course, when it got down to the mascot, that was our biggest fight. We got down to the mascot. The Lincoln school was called the Lincoln Eagles. And La Marque school was called the La Marque Cougars. And of course, there was a boy named Norm Bulaich. He went to pros from La Marque High School, white school. And of course, Blacks were not allowed in the pros too much then. But Norm Bulaich, became a great, great, star, great star, and all that. And he was very popular. And so, we clashed on what we were going to call, you know, the football team, and other sports. And of course, they wanted to keep the cougars, and we wanted to keep the Eagles. And of course, in all of 03:40:00the integration cases, Blacks never did raise issue about the mascot. But I raised it. And so, that hung, hung us up for almost a week. And I had some encouragement from the white communities. They said, "Reverend, don't give in." Said, "If y'all got to give y'all's up, they got to give theirs up too."
MAYFIELD: So, you changed the--
BENFORD: --and they told me not to agree--huh?
MAYFIELD: So, you changed entirely the mascot?
BENFORD: We changed entirely. I wouldn't budge. I said, "If we can't keep ours,you can't keep yours. We got to go to a neutral name." And so then, uh, and we all up late tonight, blah, blah, blah. So, finally, um, in one of our disputes, and all, I just said, I said, "We all know this is enough. Just call them anything, just call them anything." And, lions, tigers, and somebody grabbed it. Just call them Tigers. And that's how they got the name La Marque Tigers.
MAYFIELD: Hmm. Okay.
BENFORD: Hmm, hmm. And so, we gave up the Eagles, and they gave up the Cougars,and La Marque became the La Marque Tigers.
MAYFIELD: Were there any other issues at the schools related to integration that--
BENFORD: --occasionally, tempers flared. And sometimes, things happened. Kidsgot into it with teachers. I never shall forget at the junior high school, there was a lady--. And of course, and there were people that, that didn't understand negroes, and negroes didn't understand white people. (Audio interference) had their teachers, and all that. And they had their ideas, and our folk had their ideas. And we had some bad kids, and things like that. And, I said, "Bad, you know," but they just ---------(?)(?). And I never shall forget one 03:42:00time, that, one of a little junior high student got into it with a teacher. And of course, I mean it got into a tussle. And they, and so this girl kind of pulled this teacher's hair. And, she pulled quite a bit of it. And it, it was really, really kind of, became offensive. And so, then they expelled her. They expelled her from school and all. And of course, we didn't know what happened. We wasn't there. But we took it up. I, or at least, I took it up. I said, "Well, we need to have a fair hearing. We can't take her word for it. And let's just have a fair, impartial hearing." And so, then they said "Okay." And of course, they allowed us to get this little girl a lawyer to just, to represent them because she couldn't represent herself. And of course, um, there was a boy at, at TSU campus. His name was Craig Washington. Craig Washington, later on, shook the world. And of course, I had met him one day there. And he was a law student at TSU law school. And of course, he comes to the gathering. He said, "Reverend call me." So, when they said, get a lawyer to defend this little girl, I took a hundred dollars of my money, and I called Craig and asked what would he charge to come and defend and to make sure the girl got a fair hearing. And of course, he said, "A hundred dollars." So, he came to this very office where I am right now and he took the little girl's case. And he got all the boys and 03:44:00girls that knew, that saw it, blah, blah, blah. He called them all in and he let them tell their story. And they had appointed a date for the hearing. And of course, they allowed me and others to come in for the hearing. All the school board members came. And of course, Craig was a young, I do mean young, Black attorney. And of course, he came (laughs). When he got there, the first thing he did, he gave all the school board members cigars. And then he lit them for them. And oooo, that went all over me, I, man. I said, "What in the world?" And then, he got them to relax. And so, when he, when he brought all the facts out, they reinstated the little girl, and they fired the instructor.
BENFORD: They sure did. They fired her. And that's one thing that I never shallforget. It was fair! When they really got the facts of what brought it on, and you know, and all that kind of thing, and they found that the little girl was provoked, and all that. And she is just a kid, fourteen or fifteen years old. And she reacted like a kid. Hmm, hmm. Now that, that, that, to my knowledge we didn't, we, we never had anything else in any degree to occur in La Marque, in the school district.
MAYFIELD: Do you remember where you were when Martin Luther King was killed?
BENFORD: Yes, I was in Texas City. And I was at Pastor Evan Johnson's home. Iwas at his home. And the news flashed that he had been shot. It wasn't strange though because we had been looking for it. And we knew that they 03:46:00were not going to let him continue to do what he was doing and stir this nation like he was stirring it. And not take him out. So, it was, it was sad, but it wasn't shocking. And we knew it was going to stir up a lot of anger and hate, and we knew riots were coming. And of course, we also knew that wasn't going to really change anything. We just knew that we had suffered a great loss. I almost went to his funeral. I could have easily gone, but I recognized the fact that I, it was so many folk going to be there that I couldn't breathe. And so, I said, "I could do just as much good here by just praying and stuff like that. And it's going over there." I could have easily gone to his funeral. I met him twice in my lifetime.
MAYFIELD: Oh, how was that?
BENFORD: Well, he came to Houston. And I was civil rights worker, and everybodyknew it. So naturally, we wouldn't turn down a chance to go and see him. He was a weird looking fellow. It was an air of mystery about him. Just to behold, to look at him. He looked like he was from another world to me. I, eyeballed him when I looked at him. And you could almost just tell, but his destiny was set. He came to a fundraiser. And of course, they, they raised a lot of funds for the cause. And we'd all get funds. I was in his presence two times, but I hadn't a chance to speak to him, and all that. And he was, he was very inspiring, very, very inspiring.
MAYFIELD: Was there anything that he ever said that till this daystands out in your mind? 03:48:00
BENFORD: Would you please repeat that?
MAYFIELD: Was there anything that he said, particularly, when you saw him live,that to this day, stands out in your mind?
BENFORD: No more than the common. They just told him that I was a young man inTexas City, Texas. And I was very, very active in civil rights movement. And I had served on some committees. And so, he knew my little background and of course I was, uh, I was young. And of course, he just told me to hang in there and not to give up and, and never allow anger to play a part of my decision making. And never allow hate to motivate my activity. He told me to always in operate in love. Christian love. Godly love. Agape love, and that's love that seeks the best for others. And so, but that was my attitude already, so, I just knew I was doing the right thing and I just continued to do that. Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: He was a very, very, he's a very, he was a weird looking dude to me.
MAYFIELD: (laughs) Was he, he seemed short to you? Or tall? Or?
BENFORD: Well, no, he was just a normal size.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: He was just kind of a normal sized guy. And he wasn't large and he, hewasn't small. He was just a normal sized man. He was very, very, uh, see, he wasn't flamboyant or nothing like that. He was very, very serene and serious. And he had a lot on his mind. He had a lot on his mind. And all that. He's--
MAYFIELD: I wanted to ask you--
BENFORD: He was a child of destiny.
MAYFIELD: He was a child of destiny?
MAYFIELD: He was a child of destiny?03:50:00
BENFORD: He was a child of destiny. You could just see it. He wasborn for a purpose. And I think he understood he was on a mission. And I think he understood that what he, that the mission he was on, that nobody could do it but him. And we never expected, I didn't expect him to come as far as he came and be alive in America at that time. And of course, they finally decided they'd take him out. And of course, they did it. And of course, we were hurt. And we knew we had lost a great, a great man to follow. We knew we'd lost leadership. And of course, we haven't had that caliber of leadership since. We really haven't. We had, uh, now understand that Jesse Jackson was kind of in, you know, behind him. And Jesse Jackson became, you know, things that he dreamed about. And Jesse Jackson had, he had those two ways, he understood that no matter how many rights we got, that we would have to be in some way, kind of, included in. He, he talked about silver as really civil rights. He said, "If you ain't got no money, there's nothing you can do." We had to have access to some of the silver. And so, Jackson fought two fights. He motivated people to fight corporations and things to give us a chance. Qualify for a chance, and, and he's still doing it. And so, he talked about civil rights as silver rights.
MAYFIELD: Silver, meaning money, and civil, meaning people.
BENFORD: Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And civil means law, government, justice,you know. Equal opportunity. And that's what I learned from him. 03:52:00
MAYFIELD: That's an interesting concept.
BENFORD: Yeah. That's what I learned from him. And he's been here twice. Iinvited him, and he came. He preached at my pulpit on Sunday morning. And of course, he, and, and, and you couldn't count the folk inside and outside. And he was a great inspirational speaker.
MAYFIELD: Jesse Jackson.
BENFORD: He could move, he could move, he could move. He came here twice andspoke. And then, one time, he spoke to my youth while he was here. Got all of our youth together and he spoke to them, and he was very, very, very impressive.
MAYFIELD: Well, I wa--, I wanted to ask you just a couple more questionsbecause, I know it's getting late. --.
MAYFIELD: And, you know, you've been a pastor for seventy years, and I know thatyou were married and had two children?
MAYFIELD: You were married twice and then you had two children, correct?
BENFORD: No, I had two children by my first wife. I had two children by my firstwife. And I had three children by my second wife.
MAYFIELD: Who did your, how did your family play a role in your church?
BENFORD: My family, well, I was well-loved here and well-thought of. And myfirst marriage was just a mistake. I married; we were unequally yoked. And after five years, we peacefully parted. But I kept my relationship with my children. And then, because they knew I met and married Julia, Juletta Wright. She was a schoolteacher. And she understood me, and she understood the ministry, and what have you. And she was also a marvelous songster, and all 03:54:00that. And we stayed married sixty-two years--
MAYFIELD: That's a very long time.
BENFORD: --almost. If I, if, if she'd lived, if she had lived to see December12th of this year, we would have been married sixty-two years. She died April the seventeenth of this year.
BENFORD: So, we were married sixty-one years. Almost sixty-two years. And shewas right by my side and she shared all of my joys and my sorrows. And of course, we're getting over that too.
MAYFIELD: Did she work in the church with you?
BENFORD: Yes, she did. She was born in church, worked in church, she had a lotof talents. She knew how to do things. And she knew how to work with ladies and, and programs, and of course, that made my work much--. I just, I, I primarily want to be known as a preacher. I've never wanted to be known as a civil rights worker, even though I am, and all that. But I am a preacher. And that's what I want folks to do me for. And there's a lot of things I can get in, and a lot like, lot of things I've shared with you, I don't share with anybody. Like the Head Start stuff, and things like that. And I'm the one that sat on both committees to integrate Texas City and La Marque. And, well, I don't crow about that kind of stuff.
MAYFIELD: Did your--
BENFORD: And I didn't count the things that we, you know, have got done. So, uh,but I, when I die, I want to be remembered as a preacher of the gospel. That's what God called me to do. And I've been trying to do that seventy-six years. I've been preaching, going on, Dec--. If I live to see December 25th of this year, I will have been preaching seventy-six years.
MAYFIELD: That's amazing.
BENFORD: And I was, I, I've been here, seventy years.
BENFORD: I've preached, I've preached, I've pastored other churches before Icame here. I had three more churches that I pastored. But they were 03:56:00rural churches. This is my first full-time church where you preach every Sunday. See, I, I had churches where if I came here on a first Sunday, I'd come back on the third Sunday. If I preached somewhere on a second Sunday, I'd go, I'd go back there on the fourth Sunday. That's called part-time pastoring. But when you go to church where you teach at the same church every Sunday, that's full-time pastoring.
MAYFIELD: Did you--
BENFORD: I've been here since 1950 as a full-time pastor,
MAYFIELD: Did, did your children get, uh, what are the names of your children?
MAYFIELD: What are the names of your children?
BENFORD: Alright. I have a boy named after me. His name is Thomas, I mean hisname is D. N. Benford, Jr. And they call him Junior. He is also a minister and a musician. He's a songwriter. He's very, very gifted. As a speaker and a composer, and things like that. And he serves as my musician here now.
BENFORD: Okay. And then, I had a daughter named Arla. Arla Rochell, but theywere sisters and brothers. And she was a songbird. She had an unusual voice that moved people. And I lost her, I lost her to a domestic feud. Her husband took her life. Even though he wasn't charged for it. And they were sisters and brothers. And then, when I married my wife Julia, the one I stayed with sixty-two and half years, I had a daughter named Michelle. And then I 03:58:00had a girl named Yolanda. And then I had another girl named Toni. And then I had one more son. His name was Thomas Nathaniel Benford. And of course, he was a great star at La Marque High School, football player.
BENFORD: Big star, when he was going to La Marque High School, they weretwenty-nine and one. And he left there and went on. And he had a great mind. And Rice recruited him. And then, he started playing football for Rice. And Rice had not had a winning football season in thirty-four years. And he turned their season around. I got an article that they put in The Houston Post of him, on the front page. And they point him out as being the source of Rice's first winning football season. His defensive ability, in thirty-four years. And he played football for Rice. And they, they been winning a little something ever since. Yeah, Rice University. He left there and he went to Harvard. He finished Harvard. He was a great mathematician. Um, math was just his strong suit. And of course, he had a chance to play pro football. The Green Bay Packers, and Dallas Cowboys, and Seattle Rangers, they all offered him a great scholarship, but Chase Manhattan got him. And he got a, uh, they helped him finish 04:00:00Harvard. And so, he deals in the business world. And right now, he is something like a CEO for Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
MAYFIELD: Oh, I see, okay.
BENFORD: Yes, and they, the state of Florida is, is under their supervision. AllCokes in Florida.
MAYFIELD: That's why you're so familiar with the Coke story.
BENFORD: Yeah, hmm, hmm.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: Yeah, he's over there. I think he has, he has about maybe fifteenhundred folk there work under him or something.
MAYFIELD: Well, I'm going to ask you, uh, I think we should try and wrap up. Iknow I've kept you for a while. I'm so sorry.
BENFORD: Well, I mean, it just doesn't bother me, ma'am. I mean, I ain't, Iain't doing nothing.
BENFORD: I ain't doing nothing.
MAYFIELD: But is there anything else that you would like to share? That youwould like to make sure to include in your oral history story? Um--
MAYFIELD: --that we haven't talked about?
BENFORD: There may be one or two (audio interference) I'd like to share. I dothink that at this moment, that the, there's too much complacency on the part of our people. And they are taking things for granted. Years ago, they sent an emissary from Washington, D. C., to this church, to this community. And we were having, you know, all, all the folk, all the folk of leadership in Galveston County were meeting here. As a matter--,this happened during the time that civil rights was announced. And they sent these, they sent two men down here to talk to us and to give us the instruction we needed in as far as to the fact that we had been given civil rights. And we allowed one of the men to speak. 04:02:00And he spoke to all of us. Hundreds of people, right in this church. Outside and inside.
MAYFIELD: Do you remember his name?
BENFORD: No. Lordy, I (laughs) by God, that was so long ago. I probably got itaround on something. But I wouldn't know where to find it. But he said something that night when he came to speak to us and let us know that we were free, unconditionally. And all the rights that any American citizen is entitled to, that we were entitled to them as well. And they had fixed it so that legally we could demand them if they didn't give them to us. And he said one thing, and I was listening to him. And he said to us, "Whatever we do as a people, do not become complacent." With the achievements we had made, he said," Don't become satisfied. Don't relax." He encouraged us to stay on our guard and keep training the coming generations of the price we had to pay to hold our freedom. And here's what he said, he said, "I am a, I am a white man, and I do know white people." And he told us, "The white man", he said, "is a stubborn enemy. And he gives ground grudgingly." Like soldiers, he said, "You got to go in and you got to be in there to let him out." He said, "But when he's, when the white man sees that he is defeated, he'll give up." He said, "But don't rest on that, because he will come back." "And if you become complacent, he will take 04:04:00everything he gave you." And I've never forgotten that. I don't take freedom for granted. We've got to keep on being A-number-one good citizens, you know. And we got to stay organized, mobilized. We've got to be a part of the system. We've got to make sure that we are included, and all that. And like he said, "When you are out of sight, you're out of mind." So, that means, we've got to be there. We've got to speak up and speak out. And it troubles me that so many of our people are satisfied with what they got. And we have never claimed all, all our freedom, anyway. Man, that bible they had, it just is so many things we used to could ---------(?)(?) --I don't know if we can get them now--that we had access to. And there were funds for, sponsored, and all that kind of stuff. I'm sure those things have been long since blotted out. But I'm like you, I'd like to have that bible again, just to look at it. I do have that leaflet, that pamphlet that spelled out the rights of the poor.
MAYFIELD: But I sort of find that interesting, because it's the rights of thepoor, but why is it acquainted to the rights of the Black then?
BENFORD: Well, they just called it the poor.
MAYFIELD: Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: They were written for us. And we are poor. We're poor. We're poor. Weare the last ones hired. First ones fired. And that's always been true. Yeah. We are the last ones hired on any job. And we're the first ones fired. And of course, we can't go to sleep on nothing. And of course, we are never 04:06:00paid equal pay of the folk. They have always found a way to give us less and give their folk more. And so, they classified us as--they called it the rights of the poor. And of course, they administered these were the things that we were not getting, that we could get, because they made provisions for us to get it, in that act. In that act. And we are victims of segregation. We are the only folk that came to America, that, that somebody passed a law that said "I couldn't do it." They didn't do the Irishmen like that. The Germans. The Russians. None of those folks came to America with bans on them progressing, and getting education, you know, and nothing like that. But special laws have been passed in America to stop me if I'm Black. I can't do it. I can't come in. I can't be a part of it. So, that means, we got to get up off the ground and win anyway. And that's the attitude that most have toward Black because they were taught that. Anybody can have it, but you. If you're Black, get back. If you're brown, stick around. If you're white, you're right. And that's, and that's in the minds of a lot of white folk right now.
MAYFIELD: So, do you think that the thought is still there. The negative04:08:00 thought of African Americans is still there, now?
BENFORD: You, that, now, when you said, what thought are you talking about?
MAYFIELD: Well, that, to not allow rights?
BENFORD: That, yeah, are you, uh, yes, we do. I think that people still thinkthat we are inferior.
BENFORD: Yes. Yes. Yes. It, it, it is more predominant now than it has everbeen. I'm ninety years old and I've never seen as much bigotry and as much prejudice as this nation is now under. And of course, when the leader of a nation draw a line and endorse people who don't want to abide by the Constitution and see all men equal, he loosens the forces of evil on that nation. And of course, the leader we have now, in no uncertain terms, has made it very plain that he believes in white supremacy. He believes in these groups that want the hog and hare; you know. And anybody, but a Black. And he has licensed people to kill us with his, with his talk. Just his talk, has done that. And just this year alone, 154 Black folk have been killed, you know, in custody, and unarmed, and, and I mean, by folk that are supposed to be protecting them. And it's all because of the attitude of the leader we have. The other night in the debate, he would not, he would not admit that these, the Klan, and other groups like them, are wrong. We can't have it both ways. Either I'm for the Constitution or I'm not. Any man that's not for, 04:10:00and that swears an oath that he will enforce the Constitution, he's not fit to lead this nation. And President Trump has done this on more than one occasion. I ain't talking about his morals. His disrespect for women, you know, and all that kind of stuff. The man has said it in no uncertain terms, he does not believe that certain people ought to have what other folk got. And Lincoln and them said "That, that all men are created equal." And of course, I, you, I can see, and you can see, this, this nation is aflame right now with all this hate and stuff. And it's getting worse. It's getting worse. And, he has sowed the seed of revolution. If this man gets back in a second term. Huh uh. I don't want to say what I know is going to be. Just here recently, he's, when he was debating with B--, with, the candidate, Biden, and all that. And Biden, he would not denounce white superiority and Americans just like that. He wouldn't do it. And, and just, uh, (laughs) just yesterday, he called (laughs) he called vice-president candidate Harris, oh Lord. He called her everything but a child of God. And a man who don't respect women, I don't know.
BENFORD: And if Ameri--, and if they go back, if these folk in America, um, puthim back in office, it ain't going to be no America. Because he has 04:12:00given license for men to abuse men. And all is, he, he's turning America into a jungle. And only the strong are going to survive.
MAYFIELD: You know, it will be very interesting, Reverend Benford, to have aconversation off, off, um, offline with you about this.
BENFORD: Yeah. Well, I'd be very happy to talk with anybody.
MAYFIELD: (laughs) Hmm, hmm.
BENFORD: I'd be very happy to talk with anyone. Anyone. Anytime. Anywhere.Night, it don't get too dark and the days don't get too long. I'm available.
MAYFIELD: Well, I was going to say, as a reverend for so many years--
MAYFIELD: --would you like to offer a short message, religious message, that youknow, that tells a little bit about you? And then we will finish our oral history?
BENFORD: I suppose I could do that. Would you like me to just say I'm D. N.Benford and I was born in 1930 under harsh conditions of segregation, Jim Crowism. And I, we got the backlash of the Depression. Nobody had things and whatever they had, we Blacks, had less. The whole nation was in a pandemic of poverty and Blacks had less. Whatever they had, we had less. We were totally dependent upon God and the folks that God touched to give us any kind of a chance. And there are some good God-fearing folk in America. And 04:14:00because they are, God, through them, made a way for us and in some cases, they carried us on their backs. And we've come this far. We have seen, I have seen the rights of Blacks come alive. I've seen Jim Crow laws drop and fall. I've seen opportunities open up, that were undreamed of in the world. I'm saddened by one thing. The church, the so-called church, the most powerful folk in the world, that represent the All-Mighty God, has failed God in America by not proclaiming Bible-truth as to how men ought to live and treat one another. Because the preachers, and those that claim to represent God, have been quiet, indifferent, and silent on what the Bible says about men and their rights. And their standing before God, and how we treat one another. We have a pandemic of injustice, hate, crime, evil, racism, and anything you can name that spells disaster and defeat on our hands. And my prayer is that the folk who 04:16:00 represent God will first of all claim what God said about men and their rights and how we are to live and treat one another. And my second prayer is that men are taken the oath of the American Constitution and not living up and their being, dividing themselves and being pressed by evil and forces that bring about injustice among men. And we don't have to live like that. We can't live like that. We are a house divided against ourselves. And we cannot stand. And my prayer to God is that the church would come alive. And before anybody makes any decisions or choices, we got to realize that God has already said what he wanted and there is no choice. It's God's way or the highway.
BENFORD: And I just pray to God that we will come to God's way and theConstitution of the United States.
MAYFIELD: Well, thank you Reverend Benford so much for allowing this opportunityto interview for our African American Experience Oral History Project. And, with that note, and your words, I'd like to thank you again so much. And we conclude our interview at this time.
BENFORD: I thank you for the opportunity and I pray to God that I said somethingthat will help somebody. And thank you again.
MAYFIELD: You're welcome.