"Not eating chard. That's what all those weirdos eat at their stupid picnics on the Hungry Ghost lawn." -Nina

February 11, 2008

Bennie Melvin Johnson

Last Thursday's Daily Hampshire Gazette 'A Look Back' features a note about Bennie Johnson, better known around town as the bucket man. 25 years ago,

"Bennie Melvin Johnson, the 36-year-old Florence Heights resident who promoted the 'pay-to-be-poor class exchange' program that gained national attention here last month, will appear on a broadcast of The Phil Donahue Show tomorrow. Also appearing on the program will be Springfield Morning Union reporter Jonathan Tilove, who was one of two people who paid to live at Florence Heights last month under the program."
Bennie came up with the idea of a class exchange program, inviting rich people and politicians to experience the reality of poverty by living in it. State Reps. William P. Nagle Jr. of Northampton and William D. Benson of Greenfield both signed up to participate, as did other people of means. This article in the NYTimes from Dec 28 1982 explains that,
"A woman studying for a master's degree in social science will donate $500 to live with a widow and seven children in low-income housing in a 'class exchange' program," created by Bennie Johnson.
Recently, on November 29th of last year, Greg Saulmon of the Local Buzz wrote a piece on Bennie, discussing his bucket playing and class exchange program of yore,
"Johnson, a native of New Orleans, has been popping up in the news since the early 1980s, when the New York Times ran a piece about his 'Class Exchange Program.' As he recalls it: 'When I first came to Florence Heights, they had no sidewalks for the kids. I wanted to let rich people know that poor people wanted the same things as rich people. So this lady came for a week from New York, and she came and seen that the resources was quite different than what she thought it was.'"
(Photo of Bennie Johnson playing an art opening at the Last Minute Gallery from Northamptonist's Flickr. See more photos here.)

Recently on Northamptonist:

--Joseph Kurasinki AKA Suntan Man, and John Borg
--Anita LaFontaine
--Al (do you have a quarter?)

LABELS: downtown, personalities