Dr. Ben Wilson was born on March 8, 1924, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended the University of Pittsburgh, but withdrew to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. Following his discharge in November 1945, he returned briefly to the University of Pittsburgh, then transferred to West Virginia Wesleyan College. There he received his undergraduate degree in mathematics and English. He later returned to the University of Pittsburgh and received his master’s in English in 1949. He earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of North Carolina in 1965.
Wilson taught for two years in the English department of West Virginia University in Morgantown before moving to North Carolina to teach at Davidson College. Two years later he moved to Chapel Hill to teach part time at The University of North Carolina, where he taught the first black student to attend the school.