Throughout his life, Hattiesburg resident Frankie L. Benton has worked tirelessly to better his city and community, whether by running for public office, opening and operating several businesses in the area, or being a forerunner in African American voting and public office.
To honor his achievements, Hattiesburg City Council members voted Tuesday during a special-called meeting to name the pavilion at Dewitt Sullivan Park in Palmers Crossing the “Frankie L. Benton Pavilion.”
In addition, council members and Mayor Toby Barker presented Benton with a proclamation honoring his achievements and accomplishments over the years.
“I appreciate this community,” said Benton, who was accompanied by family members during the meeting. “I worked hard just trying to do the things that I could do, and I appreciate this.
“I don’t know how to express myself, but I want to thank everybody here that was involved with this. I want to do the best I can to help my community, because I love Hattiesburg. I’ve been here most of my life … and I try to do the right thing.”
Benton, who lives in the Palmers Crossing community, was the first registered African American voter in Forrest County, and he opened the first parcel delivery service in the area.
He also opened the first laundromat in Palmers Crossing, along with the first African American owned and operated car dealership in the area.
Additionally, he founded Benton Construction and Benton Special Services.
“I feel like people don’t know the half of what you have done to make sure that this city is on the right track,” Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado told Benton. “I think you and I committed a long time ago not to tell folks exactly what they had to do, but nevertheless you got it done.
“And many times, it’s through any means necessary that we have to make sure that progress occurs. It’s not always going to be an easy task, and it’s certainly not always going to be through genteel conversations and making sure that we have the appearance of everything being fine when it’s not.”
Benton also was among the first African Americans to run for public office in Forrest County, when he ran for constable in 1971.
He has served as president of the Concerned Citizens of Palmers Crossing and is a life member of the NAACP.
“Mr. Benton, I will always remember you were one of the first people to really give me a lot of encouragement when I was elected to the council,” Ward 4 Councilwoman Mary Dryden said. “It has been a privilege to get to know you, and to know all of the things that you’ve done to have such a positive impact on your community.”