Ben Robertson (journalist)

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Ben Robertson
Born Benjamin Franklin Robertson, Jr.
(1903-06-22)22 June 1903
Calhoun, now Clemson, South Carolina
Died 22 February 1943(1943-02-22) (aged 39)
Lisbon, Portugal
Resting place
West View Cemetery, also known as Liberty Cemetery, Liberty, South Carolina
Citizenship  United States
Alma mater Clemson University, 1923, horticulture
Occupation Journalist, author, war correspondent
Employer Associated Press, United Press. New York Herald Tribune
Home town Clemson, South Carolina, Manhattan, New York

Benjamin Franklin Robertson, Jr. better known as Ben Robertson (1903–1943) was an American author, journalist and World War II war correspondent. He is best known for his memoir Red hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memory first published in 1942 and still in print. He died in 1943 in a plane crash in Portugal. The SS Ben Robertson launched in Savannah, Georgia in 1944 was named for him.[1][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Ben Robertson was born June 22, 1903 in Calhoun, which became Clemson, South Carolina in 1943. He was the son of Mary (née Bowen) Robertson and Benjamin Franklin Robertson. His father was the South Carolina state chemist and had his offices in Calhoun at Clemson Agricultural College, now Clemson University. Ben attended Clemson where he wrote for the college newspaper, was a first lieutenant in the corps of cadets, editor-in-chief of the year book his senior year and graduated in 1923 with a degree in horticulture. He then went to the University of Missouri where he received a degree in journalism in 1926.[3]


His professional career in journalism began with a short stint at the News and Courier in Charleston. His first major job after graduating was at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. In 1927 he went to Australia to work for The News in Adelaide. From 1929 to 1934 he reported for the New York Herald Tribune, after which he went to work for the Associated Press in New York and London. In 1935 he went to the United Press and also sent stories to the Anderson Independent in South Carolina. In 1937 Ben Robertson returned to AP and also did disaster relief work for the American Red Cross during the Ohio River flood of 1937. He even shipped out for a time on the MS City of Rayville.[4]

In 1938 pioneering musicologist and folklorist John Lomax visited Ben Robertson in South Carolina and Ben introduced him to the all-day singing festivals of the area which enabled Lomax to preserve the lyrics of many local folksongs.[5]

His work as a war correspondent began in 1940 covering England for the New York paper PM. He worked with Edward R. Murrow covering The Blitz of London. In most of 1942 he roved for PM and the Chicago Sun in the Pacific, Asia and North Africa. In the later part of the year he returned to the Herald Tribune and was on his way to London to head its British bureau when he was killed in a plane crash.[6]


In his short life, Ben Robertson published three books. The first was Travelers Rest, published in South Carolina in 1938, was an historical novel based on his ancestors' experience in South Carolina. According to Time, the book was not received well by his neighbors in Clemson.[7]

The second was I See England, published in 1941 by Alfred A. Knopf, which told of his interaction with the British during watime.[8] The last was Red hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memory, his best-known book was published in 1942 by Alfred A. Knopf and republished in 1960 by the University of South Carolina Press. It has been in print ever since.[9]

Ben Robertson's papers are in the manuscript collection of Clemson University.[10]

Death and after[edit]

Ben Robertson was one of 25 passengers killed on February 22, 1943 in the now famous crash of the Pan Am Yankee Clipper into the Tagus River at Lisbon, Portugal. Fellow passenger Jane Froman was one of 14 who survived.[11] His body was recovered and identified by a name bracelet he had on one wrist.[12] After a funeral service in the Clemson College Chapel on April 18, 1943, he was buried in the Robertson family plot in West View Cemetery in Liberty, South Carolina.[13] His epitaph reads:

I rest in thy bosom, Carolina, thy skies over me, thine earth and air above and around me. Among my own, in my own country, I sleep.[14]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]