Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson

Heather White

Monday, December 26, 2016
East Carolina University

[This text is machine generated and may contain errors.]

Heather White (00:00)
Get it. Today is December 26 2016. And I'm here with Mr. Ben Johnson. We're talking about Sycamore hills. Okay, then I'm recording you.

Ben Johnson (00:13)
December 26.

Heather White (00:14)
It is. Say this is, this is why we're here together takes a village. I just had two little kids. Mr. Johnson, thank you so much for coming out. Do you want to tell us a little bit about who you're here representing?

Ben Johnson (00:36)
Well, basically, I'm here because of Freddie and Lilian or bridge been on me for the past two, three years concerning this. Like I said, Freddie otter bridge. We were classmates at CM Eppes school. And we, he was a great sportsman, football player that played everything. And I was, I didn't play any sports. And my grandmother, Caroline Forbes Johnson, was a member of this church, along with a lot of other cus cousins, and family members that that are Forbes and they were a part of this church. I I'm not for certain, but I'm curious at her age factor. She probably was one of the original members of the Church, as I've just said a few minutes ago, it by father than living the day. But really, February, he would have been 116. He's on 115 As of now, and because that mean, my my grandmother and grandfather had some age. And because my grandmother, Caroline Forbes Johnson, passed when I was seven years old, eight years old. My grandfather passed Ben Johnson pass when I was six years old. And we all lived out in the rock spring areas, strangely enough two sides how he fought me on the view about 43 airway. Okay, one side is the heavens have a side is a force in America folks. And so my grandmother them up for some reason my grandfather remain his name stayed the Johnson side for some reason. I don't know why. But his first cousin over the urban side, and then my grandmother, but the Forbes side, because her father was named from the Forbes as slaves. They all were slaves on the farms. So he had the Forbes and the Evans that own that whole area, like, like going down from I guess, a Sandbridge. He'll join him or he elected. He's barbecue here and on down that way. That's where a lot of them live already. Today, going up to place go Bruce. And my grandmother and grandfather lived there. They was born there, lived there all their lives and was buried they own the fall. My father was born there and lived there for many many years. We didn't move away. And then we move into Greenville please call in here you like call the call Riverdale now. Yeah. And we feel it's strange. My grandpa my father told me many years ago when I was just a kid that said my grandfather, Ben Johnson. He had $1,000 and we're gonna buy some, buy some land, which more than likely, because when I went to school at Eppes, they had just started to build in houses and everything in that area. Across from me on the other side of Fifth Street. There was still farming on that side of the street. I used to go out there and work with my uncle everything. And where you see houses now being torn down. Those houses were built after the farming time. Yeah, they call it now they've shot to change the name of the if you look on the edge of Fifth Street there, it's called helps helps Park area where they call it something that's time to change your name. But But that's where I tend to school for many years after coming from the rock spring area. And then like I say it is a lot of us with the environment area and Greenville area we grew up. I grew up back and forth coming to school and grade 11 went to school. Firstly, there is elementary school didn't come to Greenville, to Eppes. I think at first time it helps. I probably was in fourth grade I think. Yeah. And then from there as the as the area changes and walking back and forth. Yeah, yeah.

Heather White (04:42)
With your grandparents attending the church, did you grow up hearing stories about

Ben Johnson (04:46)
My my grandmother,

Heather White (04:48)
Your grandmother,

Ben Johnson (04:48)
My grandmother tend to be my grandfather both time he I guess he came some time because like I say he passed when I was seven and she was eight. You know my grandmother, you My grandmother, my grandfather he really loved I guess, I guess I take a lot of like my father my grandfather, my grandfather was always joven talking and doing that, you know, my grandmother I never saw my grandmother Caroline's smile, never saw her smile. And she she weighed by maybe 125 pounds. She had long hair, they stretched all the way down to a butters and she was sitting just look at you. She never saw the smile I just I was almost afraid to be around it. And my grandfather he was always so jovial and doing things and around about happy to let the person my father talked about it but I don't know what happened to the $1,000.

Heather White (05:58)
We just thank you for coming out is there anything else you want us to know before we go and take some photos?

Ben Johnson (06:07)
That's basically this area. Not one thing but this whole area now. This this area was this was African American area. This This was not a doubt this when they called Downtown uptown what they want to say but this whole area was African American. And then when change decided to move and then he ended up getting rid of the church. Then it started to change and then when they started to build in the houses like down on California, I mean mass streets in those areas. Then they started to build a lot of houses and area from the school was built at CM Eppes That's where you had a lot of influx of teachers come in here to teach so that's when and after this expansion at this they started getting a lot of help in that area. And he spoke when he started doing a lot of housing but all this was really cold they walked people walk from here that my schoolmates he walked from here down to it from the beginning. So one another this without that and one thing I remember when I probably maybe about guess maybe he's nine years old, so I stuck a nail in my foot. And the they had a miss area somewhere up in that area seemed like the hospital was over here. And it was just a wood frame hospital. I remember that. And my father brought me to get they had my it was all like my whole foot was poisonous. And because the doctor or doctor a Doctor Smith, and he's from he's had a lot at a lot of land out round from the other side of Bell office area called Smithtown. And he was a doctor that weighed on me flooded my foot, pull out all that stuff. And I tell you, it really was something because I was almost like losing fat to lose my whole leg. I thought if it stayed that way, and I still have my product from now. But the hospital was somewhere already in that area. They just just so big, just so big building. And that basically the hospital and then that eventually built the hospital that you have not want to have now but the oh one were the county commissioners in Yeah. And that was I think that was that building we built like a three storey building, did not have a basement in anything at that time.

Ben Johnson
Photographs of Ben Johnson taken at the Town Common, Greenville, N.C., accompanied by an oral history interview, for the Beyond Bricks and Mortar project. Johnson's grandmother Caroline Forbes Johnson was probably one of the original members of the Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church. Although Johnson lived in the Rock Spring area, he attended C.M. Eppes after the third grade and recalls that his schoolmates walked to school from their homes in downtown. He remembers receiving medical treatment at Dr. Smith's wood frame hospital. He has fond memories of his grandfather Ben Johnson and remarks on his joyful personality. Interviewer: Heather White.
December 27, 2016
Original Format
oral histories
Local Identifier
Digital Object
This item has been made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Researchers are responsible for using these materials in accordance with Title 17 of the United States Code and any other applicable statutes. If you are the creator or copyright holder of this item and would like it removed, please contact us at

Contact Digital Collections

If you know something about this item or would like to request additional information, click here.

Comment on This Item

Complete the fields below to post a public comment about the material featured on this page. The email address you submit will not be displayed and would only be used to contact you with additional questions or comments.

Comment Policy