June 13, 2016

Langevin Remembers, Honors Mel Benson

North Kingstown Post Office Named in Honor of Longtime Public Servant Melvoid J. Benson

WARWICK, R.I. – Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) expressed his deep sadness at the passing yesterday of longtime public servant Melvoid J. Benson, one of the first African American women to serve in the Rhode Island General Assembly. Langevin spoke to Benson just days earlier to inform her that a bill he introduced to name the North Kingstown Post Office at 7715 Post Road in her honor was on the President’s desk, awaiting his signature. A companion bill was introduced under the leadership of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who helped shepherd the House-passed bill through the Senate.

The bill is expected to be signed into law this week.

“I had the distinct honor and privilege of serving with Mel Benson in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, and it didn’t take long for me to discover that she was a strong, dedicated woman who always knew how to get things done. At a time when women of color were scarce in elected office, Mel was a trailblazer, carving out a reputation as an unfailingly honest and principled leader who put the needs of her constituents first. She was a consummate public servant who quickly became my friend and mentor, and I will sincerely miss her humor, her honesty and her spirit,” said Langevin. “Mel fought for her constituents at the State House with the same enthusiasm and passion that she fought for her students in the classroom, and I wanted to find a way to recognize her tireless devotion to our state. I had hoped that Mel would be by my side when we cut the ribbon on her post office, but I am grateful at least that she knew her legacy would never be forgotten.” 

The Honorable Melvoid J. Benson (Estes) was the first black woman to be elected to the Rhode Island legislature from the Second Congressional District. Born on February 13, 1930, in Jackson, Tenn., she moved in the 1960s to Rhode Island, where she would go on to have a long and distinguished career in education and public service. Benson taught in the North Kingstown School Department for 25 years, during which time she was elected to the House of Representatives, where she would serve the residents of District 32 in North Kingstown for seven terms until 2004. One of her proudest accomplishments as a member of the General Assembly was her early involvement in the planning and development of Quonset Business Park.

After leaving the State House, Benson was elected to the North Kingstown School Committee, where she served for eight years, until 2014. She continued to follow politics after her retirement, and last year was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the North Kingstown Democratic Town Committee. Benson died yesterday at the age of 86.

“With the passing of Mel Benson, Rhode Island has lost a trailblazing public servant,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Mel’s parents told her that ‘every generation must do better than the last,’ and she made it her life’s work to ensure those words rang true. For more than 50 years, Mel Benson dedicated herself to educating children, fighting for social justice, and lifting up Rhode Island communities. By renaming this post office in Mel’s honor, I hope future generations of Rhode Islanders will be inspired to ‘do better than the last,’ following her example. I loved Mel, and am proud to honor her memory.”

Last week, Benson called the post office naming “such an honor.”

“Representing the people of North Kingstown in the General Assembly, on the School Committee, and in the classroom, was one of my life’s greatest joys,” said Benson. “I didn’t do it for the credit – I did it because I felt a duty to give back and I wanted to help my friends and neighbors. I love my town, and I’ll never stop fighting for it.

The Melvoid J. Benson Post Office will be officially designated with a ceremony at a date to be determined, sometime in the fall of 2016.


Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921