Cleo McKinnon Selected As Benson’s Black History Honoree

This year’s Black History Month honoree has made it her mission in life to improve the well being of children in Benson. If she’s not running her summer meals initiative — the Four Leaf Clover program — from her home, you can find her at the Benson Partnership for Children or any number of places around the community — making a difference. In fact, one might consider Cleo McKinnon a professional volunteer.

Skimming her nomination form — submitted by Benson Commissioner Maxine Holley — Mrs. McKinnon’s work in the community stands out because its vast impact, something Mrs. Holley has seen first hand as she has assisted Mrs. McKinnon on several occasions.

“She has given the children a greater respect for our police officers — they get to interact with them in a personal way and realize they do more than arrest people. They help them with reading, cook for them, and play ball with them,” she wrote. “The children love it!”

If there are children involved, it’s safe to say the Cleo McKinnon isn’t far away — she’s just that dedicated, she explained in her nomination.

The Benson Museum of Local History received its nominations for Black History Month honoree in December of last year. Mrs. McKinnon was a shining example in a pool of shining examples.

“I complied the evaluations and, based on the numbers, determined who our nominee would be this year,” explained Benson Cultural Arts Director Derrick Barefoot.

“The hardest part of this process for me was seeing the honoree and not telling them until the time was right. It was an honor to be able to tell Cleo she had been selected as our 2020 Black History Month nominee,” he said.

Mrs. McKinnon is known for keeping a low profile when it comes to accolades. It was no surprise then that she was a little flabbergasted when Mr. Barefoot told her about her most recent recognition.

“She thought at first I was joking when I told her and I said, ‘No, Cleo this is for real. You have been selected based on your involvement in the community and the impact you are making.’ She was speechless and in tears,” he said.

In addition to the summer program she founded, Mrs. McKinnon regularly delivers food to the sick and homebound. She is a member of St. James Church, the Benson Housing Authority Board of Directors, and the South Johnston Optimist Club.

“I am really looking forward to our Black History Month Open House at the Museum,” said Mr. Barefoot. “We have got a great program planned along with a few surprises. We hope to see you there!”

The Benson Museum of Local History’s Ninth Annual Black History Month Celebration will be held Sunday, February 23, 2020 from 2pm to 4pm. Guests are encouraged to bring historical items and lots of stories to share.

Benson’s museum is located at 102 W. Main Street. For more information about the event, contact Derrick Barefoot at (919) 894-3724 or email