Benjamin L. Hunton, 61, a retired major general in the Army Reserves and a former federal and D. C. public school official, died of cancer Wednesday at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Gen. Hunton's military career began when he was a cadet in the Reserve Officers Training Corps at Howard University, where he graduated in 1940 with a bachelor's degree in history and a commission as a 2nd lieutenant. Before it was over, he had become the first black to achieve general officer's rank in the Reserves, the Army said.

During World War II, he had held training assignements in this country.

Over the years, he held several command and staff jobs. From 1972 until his retirement in 1977, he was commanding general of the 97th Army Reserve Command with headquarters at Fort Meade, Md., and responsibility for all Reserve units in Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia and Virginia.

In civilian life, Gen. Hunton was a teacher and administrator in the D. C. public schools, an official of the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare and then a mine safety official in the Department of Interior. After his retirement from the government in 1978, he was an associate professor of government and public administration at Howard. He retired from that post last year.

Gen. Hunton was born in Washington. In addition to a bachelor's degree from Howard, he received a master's degree there in 1942. He earned a doctorate in public administration at American University in 1954.

He began his career in the school system in 1942 and remained in it until 1966. For several years he was assistant to the superintendent for junior and senior high schools. Much of his work concerned programs for youngsters who had dropped out before graduating and for slow learners.

From 1966 to 1969, Gen. Hunton was area director for equal educational opportunity at HEW. From 1969 to 1970, he was a Job Corps program officer at Interior, working on antipoverty programs. He then moved to the Bureau of Mines at Interior and was in charge of the mine safety and enforcement division at the time of his retirement.

Gen. Hunton had run cadet programs in the D. C. high schools in his earlier years and had taught military science and tactics at Howard. He received Howard's Alumni of the Year Award in 1976.

Survivors include his wife, Jean Cooper Hunton, of Hyattsville, where the family lived, and a son, Benjamin L., of Las Vegas, Nev.

The family suggest that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society, 1825 Connecticut Ave. NW.