Vir­ginia E. Bene­dict: his­to­rian, leader, ad­vo­cate

Long­time stal­wart of Demo­cratic Party has been ac­tive for years

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

Vir­ginia E. Bene­dict, his­to­rian of the Charles County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Committee, is known for be­ing “at the right place at the right time” — and her once-in-al­ife­time ex­pe­ri­ences seem like some for the history books.

De­spite chal­lenges in Bene­dict’s early child­hood, she be­came an ad­vo­cate for pos­i­tive change in the na­tion and stood in front of many great lead­ers — for­mer pres­i­dents, sen­a­tors, con­gress­men, a pope and many civil right ac­tivists — who have all ex­pe­ri­enced her en­ergy and drive to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s dreams of free­dom and equal­ity a re­al­ity for all. “My family and I came to

Amer­ica from Ger­many as im­mi­grants dur­ing World War II. My par­ents were taken from their home­lands of Ukraine and Poland to work for the Nazis on slave camp farms against their will. My twin brother and I were born in Ger­many. He was killed dur­ing our birth and the Nazis let me live. I know what it means to be free and how it feels when your free­dom is taken away from you be­cause of what my par­ents went through dur­ing WWII,” Bene­dict said.

When Bene­dict came to the U.S. in 1949, she re­called be­ing bul­lied at school for her ac­cent. She said she felt like a mi­nor­ity as well. Bene­dict also wit­nessed her di­verse group of neigh­bor­hood friends strug­gle with in­equal­ity, in­jus­tice and seg­re­ga­tion laws.

“When I was younger, I couldn’t un­der­stand why I could not go to school with the kids I played with in my neigh­bor­hood,” Bene­dict said. “I only saw them af­ter school or on week­ends be­cause they were not al­lowed to go to school with me or many other pub­lic places. Since then, when­ever I see in­jus­tice be­ing done to a per­son or peo­ple, I al­ways feel the need to step in and help.”

Bene­dict was mo­ti­vated to be­come more in­volved in pol­i­tics af­ter the Civil Rights Move­ment. In Au­gust 1988, she was sworn into the Charles County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Committee.

She also loved the arts, be­com­ing one of the founders of Mat­ta­woman Creek Art Cen­ter in Mar­bury. In 1990, Bene­dict was asked by for­mer con­gress­man Roy Dyson to chair his Con-

gres­sional Arts Cau­cus for high school stu­dents.

“We held the exhibition for 13 coun­ties, which Dyson rep­re­sented as First Con­gres­sional Dis­trict at that time, and the art­work would be held at the Can­non House Of­fice Build­ing on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.,” Bene­dict said.

“Some­times the arts are over­looked and Vir­ginia was tremen­dous at co­or­di­nat­ing and or­ga­niz­ing the Con­gres­sional Arts Cau­cus,” Dyson said. “Her en­ergy to ac­com­plish this was re­mark­able. She loves what she does and she wanted to help show­case the ta­lent of other young peo­ple. Maybe a Michelan­gelo or Vin­cent van Gogh would come out of that, but it wouldn’t have been as suc­cess­ful if there hadn’t been a Vir­ginia Bene­dict.”

Bene­dict is also a well­known civil rights ac­tivist and sup­porter of the Charles County chap­ter of the National As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple (NAACP).

“As the past pres­i­dent of Charles County NAACP, I en­joyed Vir­ginia’s open door pol­icy to con­tact her with any is­sues that the NAACP felt needed community aware­ness or evolve­ment,” said Wanda Wills Wood­land, Charles County NAACP youth ad­vi­sor. “Vir­ginia has ded­i­cated her life to make Charles County a great place to live for all. As the pres­i­dent of the CCDCC, Bene­dict has worked with many lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions to im­prove ed­u­ca­tion, af­ford­able hous­ing and smart growth in Charles County. She is a very car­ing per­son who took her civil ser­vice very se­ri­ously. She truly be­lieves in an equal so­cial­ity for all.”

At var­i­ous Demo­cratic National Con­ven­tions, Bene­dict met Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton, Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton, Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore, the Rev. Jesse Jack­son, James Roo­sevelt Jr. (grand­son of Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt’s) and U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th).

Bene­dict said her two fa­vorite peo­ple to have met are Pope John Paul II and for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Al­though she and Obama met through a mu­tual friend, Bene­dict said it felt as though she knew the for­mer pres­i­dent for years and his dy­namic lead­er­ship en­cour­ages her to con­tinue to fight for change.

W. Ce­cil Short, for­mer chair­man of Charles County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Committee, said as the first black chair­man of the CCDCC he has wit­nessed Bene­dict’s ef­forts to make the CCDCC stronger and more di­verse.

“She has ex­cep­tional pos­i­tive core val­ues and com­pas­sion and ded­i­ca­tion to serve,” Short said. “She has been a staunch sup­porter and leader in the pur­suit of equal­ity for African Amer­i­cans. We met Pres­i­dent Obama to­gether and we went to Bill Clin­ton’s in­au­gu­ra­tion. It was awe­some. We al­ways trav­eled to­gether, and she al­ways wanted to be a per­son to make a dif­fer­ence.”

Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Bal­ti­more) and Bene­dict met civil rights ac­tivists Rosa Parks and so­cial ac­tivist Dorothy Height while vis­it­ing the Demo­cratic National Con­ven­tion in the early 1990s.

“Meet­ing Rosa Parks and Dorothy Height with Vir­ginia was a tremen­dous ex­pe­ri­ence that was over 25 years ago,” Pulliam said. “Vir­ginia and I have re­mained friends all th­ese years. Peo­ple re­spect her and her ded­i­ca­tion. She has left a legacy for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to fol­low in her foot­steps and for them to re­mem­ber that all votes count, and run­ning to be­come an elected of­fi­cial is a great way to con­tinue to serve your community.”

“Bene­dict is hard­work­ing and she’s served on [the] CCDCC for so many years,” said Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton (D-Charles). “She helped pull the Demo­cratic Party to­gether and she’s been in­cred­i­ble at get­ting peo­ple out to vote. With her lead­er­ship she made a lot of peo­ple be­come ac­tively en­gaged in the elec­tion. She’s al­ways out at events in community. You can al­ways count on her to be out there sup­port­ing the Demo­cratic Party.”

Mary­land Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Charles, Calvert, Prince Ge­orge’s) said Bene­dict has a gen­tle per­son­al­ity and is known for be­ing a tena­cious worker for the Demo­cratic Party. “She works well with all seg­ments of so­ci­ety and pro­motes kind­ness and brother­hood. She is a great role model for women in pol­i­tics.”

“I’ve worked with Vir­ginia for many years as a mem­ber of the Charles County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Committee, and she has been a ter­rific as­set to our community. Vir­ginia has worked hard to bring pos­i­tive change to South­ern Mary­land. I’m glad to call Vir­ginia a friend, and I’m grate­ful for the years of ser­vice she has pro­vided to Charles County,” Hoyer said.

“For it is women like Vir­ginia who pave the way and in­spire fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of women and men to par­tic­i­pate in their community,” said Car­rie L. Dot­son, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Charles County Lit­er­acy Coun­cil. “Vir­ginia is still in­volved in lo­cal pol­i­tics and is not afraid to get out there and do the things she be­lieves in. She is some­one a per­son can count on and is a very re­spect­ful, dig­ni­fied hu­man.”

Her two daugh­ters agreed, stat­ing that their mom is their hero.

“I grew up with a mom who ob­serves an is­sue, de­ter­mines her strat­egy, and heads full force into what­ever project she chooses to spear­head,” said her daugh­ter, Laura Bene­dict. “Un­der her sweet de­meanor lies a fighter, un­will­ing to suc­cumb to the mul­ti­tude of chal­lenges she may face and un­de­terred in her pur­suit of what­ever goal she knows will lead to a bet­ter community.”

Her daugh­ter, Christina Bene­dict, said her mother is the spirit and driv­ing force in their family. “She’s a gem — one of those rare peo­ple who ded­i­cates her­self to a cause or a goal and strives for re­sults un­til she reaches suc­cess while light­ing the path with her en­ergy,” she said.

To this day, Bene­dict re­mains ac­tive in her community.

“Vir­ginia is con­sis­tently com­mit­ted to the Demo­cratic Party and its val­ues,” said Charles County Com­mis­sioner’s Pres­i­dent Peter F. Murphy (D). “She has al­ways used her lead­er­ship po­si­tions to help oth­ers and pave the way for other peo­ple who are in­ter­ested in work­ing for the good of the party and the peo­ple it serves. I would de­scribe her as fair, hon­est and kind. She has al­ways put the good of oth­ers be­fore her­self and sup­ported all democrats equally. She is ex­tremely hard work­ing and pre­servers un­der dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions.”

“Vir­ginia has been a sta­ple in the Demo­cratic Party here in Charles County for decades,” said Abena McAl­lis­ter, par­lia­men­tar­ian of the CCDCC. “Vir­ginia has never wa­vered in her com­mit­ment to the Demo­cratic Party or the ideals of the party. She stood firm, even when it wasn’t pop­u­lar to do so here in Charles County. I ad­mire her longevity and com­mit­ment. Be­yond be­ing a cham­pion for Democrats, she’s also a cham­pion for women’s rights. When I needed help co­or­di­nat­ing the women of Charles County for the national Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton, I turned to Vir­ginia. She was a great help in get­ting those buses full.”

In ad­di­tion to at­tend­ing the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton on Jan. 21, Bene­dict also at­tended the 50th An­niver­sary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 Civil Rights March on Wash­ing­ton in 2013, as well as the 50th an­niver­sary of the “Let Free­dom Ring” at the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial in 2013.

“We have a long way to go, but I look for­ward to the day when we don’t call peo­ple by where they are from, rather just as our friends, co-work­ers and neigh­bors,” Bene­dict said. “Any­one who wants to bet­ter their life for family or friends, they need to have the free­dom to do so. I keep fight­ing for oth­ers to have their rights and to change things. You can’t put a price on that.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO

Charles County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Committee His­to­rian Vir­ginia E. Bene­dict meets for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton at a White House VIP event in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in 2000.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

On Oct. 19, 2014, Vir­ginia E. Bene­dict greeted Pres­i­dent Barack Obama while he was campaigning for Lt. Gov. An­thony Brown at Dr. Henry Wise Jr. High School in Up­per Marl­boro.

Vir­ginia E. Bene­dict and Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam dur­ing the Demo­cratic National Con­ven­tion in Denver, Colo., in 2000.

Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton and Charles County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Committee his­to­rian Vir­ginia E. Bene­dict at a White House VIP event in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in 2000.

Submitted pho­tos

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer and Vir­ginia E. Bene­dict, his­to­rian of the Charles County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Committee, dur­ing the Mary­land Demo­cratic Party Gala National Con­ven­tion in 2013.

In 2016, U.S. Rep. Eli­jah Cummings and Vir­ginia E. Bene­dict dur­ing a T/K/O Din­ner, where Bene­dict was pre­sented the Life­time Achieve­ment Award for her work with the Charles County Demo­cratic Cen­tral Committee.

Vir­ginia E. Bene­dict and Olympic swim­mer Michael Phelps at Bal­ti­more/Wash­ing­ton In­ter­na­tional Thur­good Mar­shall Air­port in 2014.

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