The Benson Museum of Local History reverberated with song Sunday afternoon as an impromptu performance from choir members of the St. James Disciples Church brought the evening’s Black History program to a close.
It was a joyous moment — hands were clapping, some palms raised to the sky, toes tapping — in recognition of longtime resident, former Mayor Pro-Tem and commissioner Frederick Douglas Nelson II, Benson’s 2018 Black History Month honoree.
A large display highlighting area schools had been converted to accommodate a podium, speakers, and a large crowd. Mr. Nelson sat at the front during the ceremony, along with Museum Board President Hampton Whittington, Pastor Shirley Blue with Bread of Life Kingdom Impact Ministries, and Benson Mayor Jerry Medlin.
Pastor Blue’s prayer set the tone for the afternoon as Reginald Holley, son of Benson Commissioner Maxine Holley and Mr. Nelson’s nephew-in-law, made his way to the microphone.
He delivered a passionate address, touching not only on Mr. Nelson’s deep impact in the Town of Benson, but his influential tenure as an elected official — charting a path for diversity and growth on the town’s governing board.
“That is what a pioneer does, so that others can walk in the pathway,” said Mr. Holley. In a measured and assured tone, he continued. “So that others will meet with some modicum of success. Today, all of us honor a true pioneer. It is fitting that this museum honors Frederick Douglas Nelson II — not only because he is a pioneer, but because of (him) we have two women who serve on our town council,” he said referring to Mayor Pro-Tem Casandra Stack and Commissioner Holley. “I did not say black. I did not say white. I said two women. I submit to you that pathway was cleared by a pioneer. His pioneering experience is a great reflection on this town and this place we call home.”
Mr. Holley noted the opportunity in Benson that Mr. Nelson encapsulates. “I am proud to say that my uncle has been on the forefront,” he said. He went on to encourage Benson and its community to continue the momentum of opportunity and equality — to not only honor the town’s history, but continue making strides in shaping its future legacy.
“That indeed there is a place on these sacred walls for people of color to have a place…It’s among these sacred walls where we all have contributed to the history of our town. Today we honor this pioneer and I look forward to the day that that pioneer’s picture hangs at the front of the building,” he said to a thunderous applause.
Mayor Medlin followed Mr. Holley. “I’ve gotten to know Fred,” he said, referring to their shared time as commissioners. “And he’s just great.”
“This is an important day for our town — to come together as a community and recognize that we are all unique. Different individuals, yet bound together by common humanity and desire to work together for good,” he said. Mayor Medlin concluded his remarks by presenting Mr. Nelson with a desk clock engraved with a commemoration of the event.
Next, Mr. Nelson shared a few thoughts. “I am reminded of 1997 — as I have learned the Father will have His will and His way. He caused me to say something I had no idea I would say because my mind and my heart were set,” he said.
“My lips were set to say ‘no’ about serving (as commissioner), but it came out ’yes,’” he added with a smile. “However, with the support of my family and those of you that would give me encouragement from time to time — more than I had the day before. I appreciate each and everyone of you.”