Commemorating a Legend
Clemson University prides itself on celebrating the men and women who have attended this great institution. Ben Robertson, Class of 1923, is one such alumnus whose legacy must be commemorated. After being born and raised in the upstate and graduating Clemson College in 1923, Ben Robertson went on to write several books that received major national attention, specifically I Saw England, his 1941 eyewitness account of the British people during their finest hour and his classic southern tribute, Red Hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memory (1942). In addition to being a novelist, he was also a journalist, social critic, and international correspondent. Unfortunately, his life was cut short when his flight aboard a Yankee Clipper went down near Lisbon in February of 1943.
Despite all his accomplishments and international recognition, Ben Robertson is, as Dr. Alan Grubb describes him, "one of those overlooked Clemson graduates." The Ben Robertson Society Creative Inquiry, led by Grubb and Dr. Beatrice Bailey, is trying to change this. Their goal is to bring further recognition to Ben Robertson and to honor his legacy as a champion of freedoms throughout the world and as an interpreter of his beloved upcountry South Carolina.
To create a larger awareness for Ben Robertson, they worked with interested students to help found a new undergraduate organization, The Ben Robertson Society. Bailey describes this undertaking as a challenging yet "exciting venture and a good way for students to begin sharing their research, preservation, and civic outreach projects with others."
Students are developing an online museum that includes images, articles, unpublished manuscripts and research about Ben Robertson. It will also offer details about Ben Robertson Society's events and efforts. Eventually, the online museum may include a digital archive of Clemson's Ben Robertson Papers currently housed in Special Collections. Aside from creating the online museum, students are making resource guides for Ben Robertson's texts to be used in public schools throughout South Carolina. Each semester focuses on a different Ben Robertson book. This past fall, they made a resource guide for I Saw England.
Through this Creative Inquiry, Grubb notes, students have not only gained insight into Ben Robertson's life, but they have experienced "a tremendous sense of discovery." One of the students, Richard Moore, felt a special connection to Ben Robertson because, like Robertson, Moore is also in ROTC. Robertson was in the inaugural ROTC class offered at Clemson, begun after World War I to prepare students for any possible future military action. Through his research, Moore discovered the rigorous demands of ROTC back then and noted that Robertson learned to use a machine gun while here.
This Creative Inquiry really grew from Grubb's interest in promoting Clemson alumni who have been overlooked, and from Bailey's ongoing research into the life and legacy of this down-home internationalist who proved a champion of universal freedoms throughout the world. Ben Robertson is the perfect example of a Clemson graduate whose life may have been forgotten by the University, yet whose legacy should be commemorated. As Bailey says, "He is an alum, he belongs to all the students."