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The Honorable Benjamin Carson, Sr.

Neurosurgeon, medical director, foundation executive and author Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson, Sr. was born on September 18, 1951 in Detroit Michigan, to Sonya and Robert Solomon Carson. After the couple separated, Carson and his brother Curtis lived with their mother. Although she worked several jobs at a time, Sonya supported the family and played a tremendous role in shaping the lives of her sons. Upon seeing her sons’ poor performance in school, Sonya required them to read regularly and to present her with weekly book reports, although she herself only had a third grade education and had difficulty reading.

In 1969, Carson graduated with honors as the student “Most likely to succeed,” from Southwestern High School, a public school located in southwest Detroit, Michigan. During his early years, although Carson had improved his grades considerably, he had to overcome his temper. After an incident in which he almost stabbed a friend, Carson made up his mind to change his ways. Upon receiving his high school diploma, Carson attended Yale University, where he would meet his future wife, Lacena “Candy” Rustin. After graduating from Yale University with his B.A. degree in psychology in 1973, he went on to the University of Michigan School of Medicine. After receiving his M.D. degree in 1977, Carson trained at Johns Hopkins University, where he completed his internship in general surgery and his residency in neurological surgery. In 1983, Carson traveled to Perth, Australia to serve as a senior registrar in neurosurgery at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. A year later, he returned to Johns Hopkins and by the following year was named Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery. In 1987, through a ground-breaking surgical procedure, Carson successfully separated conjoined twins who were attached at the head.

Outside of his work as a world-renowned surgeon, Carson has been civically active. Using his own life story as a background, Carson has written four motivational books, which include: "Gifted Hands" in 1990, "The Big Picture" in 2000, "Think Big" in 2006, and "Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk" in 2007. The first of these works served as the inspiration for a film of the same title, in which Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays the role of Carson. Carson has also created three foundations—the Carson Scholars Fund, the Ben Carson Reading Project, and Angels of the Operating Room. He serves on the board of directors of the Kellogg Company and CostCo Wholesale Corporation. In 2008, President George W. Bush presented Carson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

Carson and his wife have three sons, Murray Nedlands, Benjamin Solomon, Jr. and Rhoeyce Harrington.

Dr. Benjamin Carson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 12, 2010.

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Interview Date


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Southwestern High School

Yale University

Michigan Medicine

Berea Seventh-Day Adventist Church

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Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination

Amalfi Coast, Italy

Favorite Quote

Trust In The Lord With All Your Heart And Lean Not On Your Own Understanding; In All Your Ways Submit To Him, And He Will Make Your Paths Straight.

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Interview Description
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Favorite Food

Vegetarian Chili

Short Description

Neurosurgeon and medical director Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. (1951 - ) was known for his groundbreaking work in neurosurgery, particularly for the operation he performed in 1987 to separate infant conjoined twins, who were attached at the head.


Johns Hopkins Hospital

Sir Charles Gardner Hospital

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Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Slating of Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr.'s interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. talks about his mother's early family life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. talks about his education in Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. recalls the effects of his parents' separation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes his educational experiences in Detroit, Michigan</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. remembers his mother's emphasis on reading</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes the impact of reading on his education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. talks about his temper</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. recalls joining the Reserve Officers' Training Corps</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. remember his response to racial discrimination</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. talks about his decision to apply to Yale University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. recalls his brother's influence</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. remember his transition to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes his transition from psychology to neuroscience</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. remembers the psychology faculty at Yale University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. talks about his relationship with his brother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. recalls his social activities at Yale University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. talks about his relationship with his wife</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes his struggles at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, Michigan</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. talks about his strategy for success in education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. remembers his surgical residency</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. remembers Vivien Thomas</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. describes his experiences of discrimination at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. talks about his religious motivations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. remembers his first surgical operation</a>







Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. recalls joining the Reserve Officers' Training Corps
Dr. Benjamin Carson, Sr. talks about his relationship with his wife
Now this is all taking place during your, I guess, the mid-years of high school as you're, you really now have, you feel like you have control of things?$$Right.$$I guess, when you're about fifteen, you know?$$Yeah, fourteen, fifteen, and then, you know, I joined the ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps]. And, you know, that was another major influence in my life. You know, I got teased a lot because of my clothes. Clothes were a big deal in Detroit [Michigan]. You had to have your sharkskins and your silks, and all of this stuff and--$$You know, (unclear)--$$Yeah (simultaneous).$$--(simultaneous) silk and wool.$$Yeah, and, you know, we didn't have money for that, so I got teased a lot. And one day I saw a guy in an ROTC uniform, had three diamonds on his shoulder. He was a full colonel, the highest rank you could obtain--had all the ribbons and metals, and I was just blown away. I said, "Wow, that's cooler than any of these things these guys wear." I said, "I think I'm going to join the ROTC." And, unfortunately, you know, I joined in the last half of the tenth grade, instead of the first half. You're supposed to join in the first half, so you have six full semesters, but at least I was in, even though I joined late. But by that time, you know, I was into my reading phase, into my high aspiration phase, so anything that I did, you know, I just felt, you know, I had to reach the top. And so, I wanted to be a full colonel, even though I joined late, and no one had ever done that. And I made it to full colonel after only four semesters, but I resolved that that was my goal. I was going to become a full colonel somehow. And, you know, I studied all the manuals. I knew all the military strategies, the map reading, the guns, everything. And after my first semester, I got promoted to sergeant. And the fellow who was in charge of ROTC, you know, he knew I was very ambitious. So, he said, "You know what, if I put you in charge of the second hour class, and you can do something with it, I'll promote you to second lieutenant." And that would have been a big jump because that would have allowed me to sit for the field grade exam. Well, that second hour class, they were just horrendous. And the reason that they ran everybody out, you know, they were violent, they were just unruly, and, but I discovered very quickly that they had a great affinity for guns and knives. And, so I said, "I bet we can use this to our advantage," and I got them involved with disassembling and reassembling rifles. I said, "I bet you guys can become the fastest people in the city who can do this." And then, with drills and with fancy drills, and all kinds of stuff, and long story short, they became the premiere unit in the school. And so, I got promoted to second lieutenant after only my second semester. And that allowed me to sit for the field grade exam which you have to be at least a second lieutenant. You can be a first lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel. And I got the highest score in the city, so I got promoted to lieutenant colonel. And I still had another semester. And I did the same thing the next year, and I got promoted to full colonel, and became the city executive officer for the City of Detroit.$$Now, you were at Southwestern High School [Detroit, Michigan]?$$(Nods head).$$Okay.$$So, you know, I got to go to Congressional Medal of Honor dinners, and to lead the front of the Memorial Day parade. And I met General Westmoreland [William Westmoreland], who is charge of the [U.S.] Army at that time--all kinds of stuff. I was offered a full scholarship to West Point [United States Military Academy, West Point, New York]. But then, I decided, it's not really what I want to do. I really wanted to be a doctor.$Your degree was in psy- psychology, right?$$Yes.$$All right. And that's a jumping off point to going to be a psychiatrist, right (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Right.$$And you were just explaining to us how you--well, how did you choose Michigan [University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan]?$$Well, because I was from Michigan.$$Okay.$$And so, I would get in state tuition, plus there were a lot of grants available, particularly for minorities. And so, it was a very, plus it was one of the ten top medical schools, so I said, "Boy, you can't beat that with a stick."$$Okay. Now, oh, now, you met your wife at Yale [Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut]?$$That is correct.$$Right, okay. So, tell us about that. Now, when did you all meet?$$Well, you know, we met actually before she went to Yale, at a reception for incoming students in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan (laughter). And I was an upperclassman, so I was invited, and I was coming to, to meet the new people who were coming, so we could tell something about what it was like, and that was the first time we ever met. But it wasn't until a couple of years later that we actually, you know, hooked up because it turns out that we both wanted to come back home for Thanksgiving. And the recruitment office would pay your way back home if you would visit some schools while you were home. And so, we went together on Yale's dime and, you know, we were going on, eating and having a good time, and we discovered we kind of liked each other. So, you know, Yale was responsible for that (laughter).$$Okay. Now, I read some place that you all, that you were doing a lot of driving, and almost ran into something or--$$Yeah. Well, on the way back from that recruitment trip, you know, we had both probably stayed up later than we should've, and we needed to get the car back to New Haven [Connecticut]. It was a rented car. And so, you know, we were just going, you know, drive straight through. And it was about Youngstown, Ohio that I fell asleep at the wheel--she was already asleep--going ninety miles an hour. And I was awakened by the vibrations, as the car was going off the road, and heading off into a ravine. And, you know, I woke up, and I grabbed the wheel, and I started turning it. And, you know, the car started spinning, just spinning around and around. And they say, you see your life flash before your eyes before you die--that's exactly what happened. All these scenes from my life, and I said, "I'm going to die." And the next thing I knew, the car was stopped, and on the, on the lane next to the shoulder. And just in time for me to pull off before an eighteen wheeler came barreling through. And Candy [Candy Carson] woke up--she said, "What happened?" I said, "Go back to sleep" (laughter). She said, "No, no, no, what happened?" And I told her what happened, and then we just, we said, "The Lord spared our lives. He's got something for us to do." And that was our first kiss, and that's when we started going together.$$That's quite a story.$$Yeah.$$Now--$$And that was the 28th of November 1972, so, we always celebrate the 28th of each month. We call it our monthaversary (laughter).$$Okay.$$So, that was the day that our lives were spared.$$Now, your wife is a musician, right?$$Correct (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) She was a music and psychology major.$$Right. And she was premed, too.$$Okay. She plays the violin?$$Yes.$$Okay, all right. Now, she threatened to play for us while we were doing the interviews--$$(Laughter).$$--while I remember. And your sons play, too, I understand (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yes, they all play instruments and, you know, as they were growing up. Along with my wife, they had a string quartet called the Carson Four, and they were really quite, quite talented. And they got to play in places, like Las Vegas [Nevada] and Puerto Rico, and a lot of places.$$Okay. Well, when you go to the University of Michigan Medical School, you are married by then, right, or are you?$$No.$$No, okay.$$No, 'cause I was a couple of years ahead of Candy.$$Okay.$$So, I went there, and then we got married when she graduated from Yale.$$Okay.$$So we got married halfway through medical school.