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Milwaukee historian says it's never too late to learn, pursues master's degree in his 70s

Posted at 12:08 PM, May 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-02 13:08:38-04

MILWAUKEE — If you've been in Milwaukee a long time, you may have heard of Clayborn Benson.

He's well known as the go-to expert on African American history and he was also a TMJ4 photojournalist for almost four decades. Benson was honored by the Milwaukee Bucks during Black History Month and is the founder of the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum in Milwaukee. The site is legendary for bringing the community together for big events, including Kwanzaa celebrations.

Benson has always had a passion for history, and now he's is going back to college. At 73 years old, Benson is working on a master's degree at UWM. He admits it can be daunting.

"This semester is testing all that I got. I'll tell you I'm sweating," Benson says with a hearty laugh.

Often, he's in class with students more than half his age, and he has a message for someone considering returning to school in their seventies.

"I would tell them no!" Benson says with a chuckle. "It's hard work!"

But joking aside, Benson encourages everyone to expand their minds as they age.

"It's challenging. What do you think I do on Saturdays and Sundays? I study, I read, and I study. I get nervous anxiety. When I don't understand something I call for help. This is not for the weak," he says. "I sit in classes and try to operate the computer in ways which those kids are doing, and it's tough."

But Benson insists the power of self-growth is crucial.

"You've got to move and make changes in terms of growth in your life."

Returning to school as opened his eyes in many ways.

One example he notes: "Sojourner Truth. It's not really her name."

As Benson illuminates the heritage of black Americans, he's a symbol of aging gracefully and a powerful reminder that getting older is not an excuse to close the books on education.

As Benson puts it, "Learning is so important; our lifestyles are always changing. Learning about those changes is required."

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