Lerone Bennett Jr.

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Lerone Bennett Jr.
Lerone Bennett in 1973. Photo by John H. White.
Born (1928-10-17) October 17, 1928 (age 88)
Clarksdale, Mississippi, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Writer, Author, Scholar, & Social Historian
Years active 1949-present
Known for books Before the Mayflower (1962) and Forced into Glory (2000)

Lerone Bennett Jr. (born October 17, 1928) is an African-American scholar, author and social historian, known for his analysis of race relations in the United States. His best-known works include Before the Mayflower (1962) and Forced into Glory (2000), a book about U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

Early life and education[edit]

Bennett was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on October 17, 1928, the son of Lerone Bennett Sr. and Alma Reed. When he was young, his family moved to Jackson, Mississippi, the capital. He attended segregated schools as a child under the state system.

Bennett graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He has noted this time was integral to his intellectual development. He also joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.


After graduate studies, Bennett became a journalist for the Atlanta Daily World in 1949, continuing until 1953. He also served as city editor for JET magazine from 1952-53.[1] It had been founded in 1945 by John H. Johnson, who first founded its parent magazine, Ebony, that year.

In 1953, Bennett became associate editor for Ebony Magazine, serving as executive editor beginning in 1958. He served for decades as editors of this prominent magazine. It has served as his base for the publication of a steady stream of articles on African-American history, with some collected and published as books.

He was noted in 1954 for his article, "Thomas Jefferson's Negro Grandchildren,"[2] about the 20th-century lives of individuals claiming descent from Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. It brought black oral history into the public world of journalism and published histories. This relationship was long denied by Jefferson's daughter and two of her children, and main line historians relied on their account. But new works published in the 1970s and 1990s challenged that position. Since a 1998 DNA study demonstrated a match between an Eston Hemings descendant and the Jefferson male line, the historic consensus has shifted (including the position of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello) to acknowledging that Jefferson likely had a 38-year relationship with Hemings and was the father of all her six children of record, four of whom survived to adulthood.[3][4]

In addition Bennett has written several books, including numerous histories of the African-American experience. These include his first work, Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619–1962 (1962), which discusses the contributions of African Americans in the United States from its earliest years.

His most recent book, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream (2000) questions Abraham Lincoln's role as the "Great Emancipator". This last work was described by one reviewer as a "flawed mirror."[5] It was criticized by major historians of the Civil War period, such as James McPherson and Eric Foner.

Bennett is credited with the phrase: "Image Sees, Image Feels, Image Acts," meaning the images that people see influence how they feel, and ultimately how they act.

Personal life[edit]

He married Gloria Sylvester on July 21, 1956. They had four children together: Alma Joy, Constance, Courtney, and Lerone III.

Legacy and honors[edit]

Honorary degrees from Morehouse College, Wilberforce University, Marquette University, Voorhees College, Morgan State University, University of Illinois, Lincoln College, and Dillard University.


  • The Shaping of Black America
  • Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619–1962 (1962)
  • What Manner of Man: A Biography of Martin Luther King (1964)
  • Confrontation: Black and White (1965)
  • Black Power U.S.A.: The Human Side of Reconstruction 1867–1877 (1967)
  • Pioneers In Protest: Black Power U.S.A. '' (1968)
  • The Challenge of Blackness (1972)
  • Wade in the Water: Great Moments in Black History (1979)
  • Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream (2000), Johnson. Publ. Co.


  1. ^ "Lerone Bennett Jr. A Classical Author", African-American Registry
  2. ^ Lerone Bennett, "Thomas Jefferson's Negro Grandchildren," EBONY, Vol. X (November 1954), pp. 78-80
  3. ^ "Conclusions", Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Monticello, January 2000, accessed March 9, .chea2011. Quote: The DNA study, combined with multiple strands of currently available documentary and statistical evidence, indicates a high probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings, and that he most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemings's children appearing in Jefferson's records. Those children are Harriet, who died in infancy; Beverly; an unnamed daughter who died in infancy; Harriet; Madison; and Eston."
  4. ^ "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account". Monticello. Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Retrieved November 4, 2011. 
  5. ^ John M. Barr, "Holding Up a Flawed Mirror to the American Soul: Abraham Lincoln in the Writings of Lerone Bennett Jr.," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 35 (Winter 2014), 43-65
  6. ^ Wayne Dawkins, "Black America's popular historian: Lerone Bennett Jr. almost retired after 50 years at Ebony..." Archived April 6, 2006, at the Wayback Machine., Black Issues Book Review, Jan–Feb 2004, accessed 25 My 2009
  7. ^ "Candace Award Recipients 1982-1990, Page 1". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003. 

External links[edit]