Anna Green of Omaha, who attended this summer's 50th anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech, has a dream of her own.
Her dream is to rally women to stop violence on the streets and to encourage the young that “somebody cares for them.”
She dreams of “a thousand ladies in red,” of all races, neighborhoods and religious denominations, marching and praying for an end to violence in Omaha.
The 77-year-old said she plans to write to houses of worship throughout the Omaha area to encourage a united front.
The mother of six believes not only in the power of prayer but also in the strength of unity.
As a young woman, she said, she flew from Omaha to her native Alabama in 1965 to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speak and to walk in the historic voting rights march between Selma and Montgomery.
“I was afraid, but I still had faith in God,” she said. “I knew God would protect us. Prayer changes things.”
Two months ago, she flew by herself to hear President Barack Obama and others speak at the commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington and of King's most famous speech.
As an African-American, she said, she has seen much progress during her lifetime. But she is discouraged by violence.
“My sister in Alabama says they have the same problem, blacks killing blacks,” Green said. “It's all the races, but more in our race. It's a shame, the way they are killing each other. It's not safe for anybody.”
She believes that prayer and a gathering of women, who bear and nurture the young, would have a great impact.
The logistics of such an effort might be imposing, but she said she has spoken to others and prayed about it, “and I've never had a prayer that's gone unanswered.”
Anna grew up in Andalusia, Ala., and came to Omaha with her husband, Lehman Benson Jr., who served at Offutt Air Force Base. The children were raised in Omaha and elsewhere, including three years in Berlin.
The couple, who divorced after 15 years of marriage, had six children.
The oldest, Folanzo, drowned at 21 in California when caught in an undertow. He had just re-enlisted in the Navy and was on an outing with his brother, Bernard.
“It was a tragic event,” said Bernard Benson, now retired after 25 years as a state prison counselor in California. “I give my mother a lot of credit for keeping things together through difficult times.
“When everybody was going through the trauma and pain, she is the one who organized the military funeral in Omaha. Even through the divorce, she managed to focus the family on what was important.”
The children always got good grades, he said, recalling that his mother augmented his classroom education by taking him to the Douglas County Courthouse to listen to trials.
Her ex-husband died in 2011. Their oldest, Lehman Benson III, holds a Ph.D. in psychology and is an associate professor at the University of Arizona.
The three daughters live in the Virginia Beach, Va., area, which their mother often visits.
As a Navy petty officer in 1994, Antoniette Benson Shuler became one of the first women assigned to a combat ship after Congress overturned the ban on women serving on such ships. A graduate of Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, she served on the USS Eisenhower.
Now an insurance agent, she said her mother is a positive force.
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“She always encouraged us to do our best at all times, no matter what,” Antoniette said. “She is very sweet and has a big heart.”
The other daughters are Dr. Regina Moore, a nurse, and Tanya Benson-Jones, a cosmetologist.
Dr. Michael Morrison, an Omaha orthopedic surgeon, said he admires Anna not only because she is kind and charming but also mainly for devoting her life to her children.
“She laid the foundation and groundwork to stimulate them to become educated and advance to high levels,” he said. “She is from that generation that did anything possible for their children to advance.”
Lillian Rogers, a longtime Omaha friend, said Anna is an excellent cook, skilled at arts and crafts and “very creative and artistic.”
Gathering women in prayer to march against violence, Rogers said, “would be a blessing to the city.”
When Anna Green visited Washington in August, she met with another accomplished relative — first cousin Gail Harris, a retired Navy captain and author of “A Woman's War: The Professional and Personal Journey of the Navy's First African American Female Intelligence Officer.”
Harris, raised in Newark, N.J., is a Gulf War veteran who spent extensive time in the Middle East. She spent 1996-99 as deputy commander of the Joint Intelligence Center at U.S. Strategic Command headquarters at Offutt and now serves as a consultant, adviser and writer.
Though two decades younger than her Omaha cousin, she said they know each other well because their mothers were sisters.
“Anna is a force of nature,” Harris said. “She has a fantastic family, and they have all done fabulously well. She travels all over and never lets anything get her down.”
Violence bothers her greatly, though, and she wants to unite women in prayer.