Dr. Bennie Fleming, a Black woman from Rhode Island who served as a nurse during World War II, recently celebrated her 100th birthday. During the milestone celebration, Fleming reflected on her past, feeling nostalgic as she looked over photos from her younger years.
One of the photos shows a very young Fleming as a wartime nurse, an experience she said has made her hesitant to speak openly about her time in the service. Other pictures captured special moments, including ones with former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, as well as family portraits.
Fleming’s journey began in the 1940s when she started her service and experienced segregation as she moved from one fort to the next. Despite facing challenges, she met the person she would marry while at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, and eventually settled in Rhode Island, where she became the first Black nurse to teach in the School of Nursing.
After her husband’s passing from cancer 30 years ago, Fleming continued to work in different hospitals and dedicated over 40 years to educating Rhode Island’s youth, retiring at the age of 71. She valued her work with Planned Parenthood and found it rewarding to help young people.
Now at 100 years old, Fleming remains active, driving to Boston and walking two miles every day. She is also an avid gardener and is determined to keep moving to maintain her independence, despite having broken her leg in the past. In 2002, she was honored by the Rhode Island Senate for her lifetime of service to the children of Providence schools.