Benson, William, Sr. "Bud"(born: 1898 - died: 1937)
William "Bud" Benson was team manager of the Lynch Grays, a Negro baseball team in Lynch, KY (Harlan County); he was also a coal miner. Born in Marion, AL, he was the son of Mary Jane Naves Benson (1857-1929) and Pinkington Benson, Sr. (1850-1932). It was not uncommon for Black miners to also be baseball players on segregated teams supported by the coal companies. The Lynch Grays were sponsored by the U.S. Coal and Coke Company [source: Diamonds in the Rough (thesis), by D. R. Bowden, p. 43].
In some newspaper sources, the team is referred to as the Lynch Demons, and in 1935 the team was considered the best colored baseball team in Kentucky, with a record of 34-1 [source: see NKAA entry]. The team may have had a different name some seasons, or there may have been more than one team. The history of the team goes back to at least 1924 when they were referred to as the Lynch colored team with no specific name [see NKAA entry]. It was several years later that Bud Benson was playing for and managing the Lynch Grays. He was with the team from the time he came to Kentucky in the 1920s until shortly before his death from pneumonia on June 10, 1937 at the age of 39; his body was removed to Marion, Alabama for burial [sources: Kentucky Certificate of Death Register No. 38; and phone conversations and email correspondence with Bud Benson's granddaughter Mary Sanders].
In addition to being team manager, Bud Benson played at the catcher position. His family members have a photograph of the Lynch Grays baseball team taken around 1935, according to Benson's grandson James Spate. Bud is on the far left side of the photograph with the word "manager" on his shirt.
William "Bud" Benson had played baseball before he came to Kentucky, according to his granddaughter Mary Sanders. He moved to Kentucky with his wife, Emma Costin Benson, a few years before his mother died, two weeks before Christmas, 1929. After his mother's death, Bud Benson's wife Emma went to Alabama and brought his daughter Lucy back to Kentucky. The family's move to Kentucky was part of the larger migration of African American coal miners and their families from Alabama to the eastern Kentucky coal-mining counties.
Bud and Emma Benson were the parents of William Benson, Jr.* (1929-1953). The family was later joined by Bud's nine year old daughter, Lucy Benson, from his previous marriage to Sarah Moore Benson, who died in childbirth. His daughter had been living with Bud's mother, and the daughter returned to Alabama after Bud's death in 1937.
Bud Benson's older sister, Ella A. Benson Green, also moved to Lynch, KY. The wife of J. H. Green, she died in Lynch on April 23, 1939. Her body was removed for burial to Marion, AL [source: Kentucky Certificate of Death Register No. 109]. An older brother, Nathan Benson (b. c1884), also moved to Harlan County, KY, where he was employed as a coal loader [source: 1940 U.S. Federal Census]. Nathan Benson, widowed, brought with him from Marion, AL, eight other family members, and there was also two lodgers from Marion, AL, who lived with the family at #22 P.V. & K. Camp. Nathan Benson moved to Kentucky after 1935, according to the census records.
Another relative was Rev. William B. Benson, the uncle of Bud Benson. Rev. Benson lived in Harlan County; he and his wife Narcississ (1878-1947) lived on Kentucky Avenue and are listed in the 1930 and the 1940 U.S. Federal Census. Rev. William B. Benson was born around 1869 in Alabama and died in Harlan County, KY, on December 7, 1941 [source: Kentucky Certificate of Death]; the death certificate does not give the city location of his burial, but the name of the cemetery was Hill Crest. His wife, Narcississ Johnson Benson, was born in Alabama. Her parents were from Virginia. She died in Peoria, IL, on March 2, 1947, and is buried in the Springdale Cemetery [source: Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index].
Rev. William Benson's daughter, Julia Mae Lee (1920-2011), also lived in Kentucky; she is buried in Cumberland, KY (Harlan County) [source: U.S. Social Security Death Index; and information from William Benson's grandson James Spate]. For the Benson family members, and many other families, the migration/recruitment to Kentucky was for employment in the coal mines. They were seeking better wages and living conditions. Playing baseball was a fun activity supported by the coal companies with the intent of creating a stronger bond between the employee and the workplace, with hopes of keeping out the perceived interferences such as unions and the idea of unionizing. If a coal miner could play baseball, then that was an added incentive for him to be hired.
*William Benson, Jr. was born in Lynch, KY, and was killed during the Korean War; the heavily-decorated serviceman is buried in the Lynch Cemetery. All of the Benson family members came to Kentucky after the year 1920 [source: U.S. Federal Census].