Benny and sister Val, c. 1934
Benny Andrews is born on November 13, 1930, in Plainview, Georgia, a farming community three miles from Madison, to George and Viola Andrews. He is one of ten children. George is a sharecropper and self-taught artist.
Andrews begins working in the fields as a young child. He also attends Plainview Elementary School, a one-and-a-half room log cabin built by Plainview's African American community.
Benny Andrews, c. 1947
Although education past the seventh grade is severely discouraged in the sharecropping system, Andrews’ mother, Viola, determined that her children will make it through high school, works out an arrangement in which Andrews will attend school when it is not possible to work in the fields.
Andrews at Fort Valley State College
Andrews is the first in his family to finish high school. With a small scholarship from the 4-H Club, Andrews attends Fort Valley State, one of the three black state colleges in Georgia. He gravitates to the school's small art department, but struggles academically.
Andrews in the US Air Force
With the end of his scholarship, failing in almost every class, and frustrated by the lack of opportunity to study art, Andrews enlists in the US Air Force in July 1950. During his service, he uses his Air Force salary to support his mother and youngest siblings. He serves for the entire duration of the Korean War, attaining the rank of Staff Sergeant and receiving an honorable discharge in July 1954.