Mario Alonzo Jacob Bennekin is originally from Eatonton, Ga. He attended Morehouse College where he discovered his love for history and African American studies. He earned his bachelor of arts degree in history from Morehouse College and his master of arts in history from Valdosta State University. Mario’s master’s thesis focused on the African American struggle during the Reconstruction Era, a time marked between the end of the Civil War and beginning of the Civil Rights era. It was his passion for history that led to his love for teaching and sharing this history with others.
When Mario was hired by Perimeter College more than 20 years ago, he became an advocate for teaching black and African American History. Within his American History courses, Mario was intentional about teaching these historical topics with honesty and transparency. He sometimes showed newspaper clippings of lynchings and challenged students to study then debate the differing perspectives of historical figures such as Nat Turner and W.E.B. DuBois. Many students raved about his classes and often praised him for his teaching style. In addition, Mario received recognition for organizing Perimeter’s first-ever ‘60s Symposium, which brought local speakers who lived through and participated in protests during the Civil Rights Movement.
After being promoted to chair of the History and Political Science department, Mario fully supported and strongly advocated for the development of Perimeter’s African-American Studies (AAS) pathway. The AAS pathway enables students to take core curriculum and African American focused courses to earn an associate of arts degree. The pathway launched in the fall of 2020, more than a year after Mario’s passing in 2019.
In 2019, various faculty at Perimeter organized to remember Mario by hosting a Black History Symposium in his honor. As another first for the College, the initial symposium took place Feb. 11-13, 2020, on Perimeter’s five campuses and online. The symposium theme was “The Struggle for Black Freedom.” The focus of lectures for the 2020 symposium was the United States Reconstruction era, in memory of Mario and his passion for the topic. The symposium, which was open to the college community and public, consisted of keynote and featured speakers, scholarly faculty presentations, student poster competitions, student dramatic performances, student spoken work contests and movie/documentary screenings.
“The Struggle for Black Voting Rights: from Reconstruction to Right Now,” “Grassroots Garveyism and the Origins of Black Power in the South” and “HBCU Work/Life from the Reconstruction Era” were among the titles for the scholarly presentations. The symposium also included film critiques on the movie “Birth of a Nation,” and a documentary about the 13th Amendment.Students presented papers on various topics, such as “Black Women & Voting Rights in the 1800s” and “The Connections Between Lynchings & Police Brutality.” They also contributed poster presentations on topics such as blackface and minstrel music, with awards given to students participating in contests and competitions.
More than 800 attendees participated in the three-day symposium, which received favorable reviews from the college community. From the beginning, the organizing committee had expressed interest in hosting the symposium as an annual event and naming it for Mario to honor his work in the discipline and his passion for teaching. In the fall of 2021, supporters succeeded in a re-naming capital campaign that raised more than $50,000, the amount required by the University System of Georgia to endow the annual symposium and officially name it the Mario A.J. Bennekin Black History Symposium.
Mario’s wife, Dr. Kimberly Bennekin, a mathematics professor at Perimeter College, spearheaded efforts to honor her late husband by re-naming the symposium for him. “Mario and I always believed that ‘with education comes tolerance,’ and I believe that this symposium will go a long way in making a difference in race relations in our country,” she said.
The Mario A.J. Bennekin Black History Symposium is scheduled as an annual event for Perimeter College. Future plans include continuing to grow the endowment to expand the symposium and award more student prizes, as well as a scholarship. Your gift to the Mario Bennekin Memorial Fund will help in this endeavor.