Ben Johnson
Play • 17 min

Ben Johnson is best known as one of only thirty people who served all eight years in President Bill Clinton’s administration. 

His parents were sharecroppers from Arkansas who moved to South Bend when Ben was a young child. Ben spent many years here, and became a strong advocate in the fight for African American equality. That advocacy brought him into contact with people in power. It encouraged him to try and gain that power to use for his community. In 1971, he became the first African American man to run a serious campaign for South Bend’s Mayor. 

In the late 1970s, Ben left South Bend for Washington, D.C. to serve in local government. Eventually, he was chosen by President Bill Clinton to serve on the national stage. 

In 2003, Ben talked by phone to IU South Bend professor Dr. Les Lamon. They talked about his activism in South Bend outside systems of power, and how he moved to positions of power from inside those systems. 

This episode was produced by Joey Meyers of the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at Indiana University South Bend, and George Garner of the IU South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center. 

Want to learn more about South Bend’s history? View the photographs and documents that helped create it. See our collections online at

Title music, “History Explains Itself,” from Josh Spacek. Visit his page on the Free Music Archive, 

More episodes
Clear search
Close search
Google apps
Main menu