Dr. Benjamin C. Whitten spent his life as an education advocate, from the time he protested against a policy that prevented him from entering the University of Delaware to the years he spent serving as an administrator for vocational education in Baltimore’s public schools.
His death of cancer on Sept. 21 at the age of 89 left the city mourning an educator, civil rights activist and former president of the Baltimore Urban League.
Whitten began teaching industrial arts in Baltimore in the late 1940s, and served as principal of Carver Vocational-Technical High School and Edmondson High School throughout the late 1950s to mid 1960s. He later advanced to principal of General Vocational School No. 52 and Cherry Hill Junior High School.
"Ben was a true giant in the Baltimore public school system and could easily have been superintendent. He knew the system inside and out," said Dr. Walter G. Amprey, former superintendent of Baltimore City Public Schools.
Whitten had a passion for leading students interested in specialized career paths. As director of vocational education for the city schools, he received the Unity Award from the NAACP. He was nominated by the late Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Maryland). He is credited with using federal funds to expand vocational programs.
Whitten chaired the Urban Vocational Education Task Force for the American Vocational Association and was a founder and president of the National Association of Large Cities' Directors of Vocational Education.
The longtime educator understood how segregation and racial discrimination could affect youth through his own experiences. As a young man, he had hoped to study at the University of Delaware, but was denied admission because of a policy at the university at that time to bar African American students. The Wilmington branch of the NAACP pressured the University of Delaware to admit Whitten based on the U.S. Supreme Court case of Ada Lois Sipuel v. The Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma. In that case, the high court ruled that schools for African Americans must have the same programs as those of schools that prohibited Blacks to truly qualify as “separate but equal.” The NAACP’s victory in the Whitten case led him to be admitted.
He went on to earn three degrees, including a doctorate in education, from Penn State. The Penn State Alumni Association recognized Whitten for “outstanding commitment, leadership, and volunteer service” in his later years.
A wing of a Baltimore vocational facility, the Westside Skill Center, was dedicated in Whitten’s honor. He was a devoted member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Lucretia, and son, Benjamin Jr.
Memorial Services for Dr. Whitten will be held on Oct. 6, at The Church of The Holy Trinity, 2300 W. Lafayette Ave., Baltimore, Maryland 21216. The Family Hour is at 10 a.m. The Omega Service is at 10:30 a.m. The Memorial Service begins at 11a.m.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be sent to: The Dr. Benjamin C. Whitten Scholarship Fund, 2331 Montebello Terrace, Baltimore, Md. 21214