Ben Yerger, who died on Feb. 5, 2014

Benjamin James Yerger (December 8, 1930 -February 5, 2014) lived in Berkeley for 38 years and was a dean at what is now known as Berkeley City College. He was the first African American admitted to the University of Arkansas’ School of Medicine, studied at UC Berkeley, and was involved in making Merritt College the site of the country’s first organized department of Black Studies.

Ben died peacefully after being ill for several years. He was born in Hope, Arkansas to his parents Chester H. Yerger Sr. and Naomi L. Reddix Yerger. Ben graduated from Henry Clay Yerger High School, named after his grandfather who was the first teacher (in 1886).

Ben’s grandmother, Ella J. Yerger, left her home on a Choctaw reservation to teach in the school, and later married Henry Clay. Together they inspired Ben’s lifelong devotion to educating others. Ben’s mother and aunts all taught at the school which was the center of his educational and cultural life.

After graduating from high school with high honors in 1948, Ben entered Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, on a music scholarship. He was also an avid football player in college. Ben graduated from Philander Smith in 1951 with majors in biology and chemistry.

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