Lerone Bennett Jr.
|Lerone Bennett Jr.|
Lerone Bennett in 1973. Photo by John H. White.
October 17, 1928|
Clarksdale, Mississippi, U.S.
February 14, 2018 (aged 89)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Occupation||Writer, author, scholar, and social historian|
Before the Mayflower (1962)|
Forced into Glory (2000)
Lerone Bennett Jr. (October 17, 1928 – February 14, 2018) was 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.
Born and raised in Mississippi, he graduated from Morehouse College in 1949. He served in the Korean War and began in journalism briefly at the Atlanta Daily World, when we was hired away by Johnson Publishing to work for JET magazine. Later, he was the long-time executive editor of Ebony magazine, and was associated with the publication for more than 50 years. Bennett also served as a visiting professor of history at Northwestern University.
Early life and education
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. His father worked as a chauffeur and his mother a maid but they divorced when he was a child. At twelve he began writing for The Mississippi Enterprise, a Jackson, Mississippi, black owned paper. He recalled once getting in trouble for being distracted from an errand when he happened upon a newspaper to read. He attended segregated schools as a child under the state system, and graduated from Lanier High School.
Bennett attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was classmates with Martin Luther King Jr. Graduating in 1949, Bennett recalled that this time was integral to his intellectual development. He also joined the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
Bennett served as a soldier during the Korean War, he also pursued graduate studies. He became a journalist for the Atlanta Daily World in 1949, continuing until 1953. He also served as city editor for JET magazine from 1952 to 1953. The magazine had been founded in 1945 by John H. Johnson, who first founded its parent magazine, Ebony, that year.
In 1953, Bennett became associate editor of Ebony magazine, taking on the role of executive editor from 1958. The magazine 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 for his 1954 article "Thomas Jefferson's Negro Grandchildren", 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.
In addition Bennett wrote 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. Bennet served as visiting professor of history at Northwestern University.
His 2000 book, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, questions Abraham Lincoln's role as the "Great Emancipator". This last work was described by one reviewer as a "flawed mirror." 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.
Bennett married Gloria Sylvester (1930–2009) on July 21, 1956. They met while working together at JET. The couple had four children together: Alma Joy, Constance, Courtney, and Lerone III (1960–2013).
Legacy and honors
- 2003 – Carter G. Woodson Lifetime Achievement Award from Association for the Study of African American Life and History
- 1978 – Literature Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 1965 – Patron Saints Award from the Society of Midland Authors
- 1963 – Book of the Year Award from Capital Press Club
- 1982 – Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women
- Honorary degrees from Morehouse College, Wilberforce University, Marquette University, Voorhees College, Morgan State University, University of Illinois, Lincoln College, and Dillard University.
- Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619–1962 (1962)
- What Manner of Man: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. (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)
- The Shaping of Black America (1975)
- Wade in the Water: Great Moments in Black History (1979)
- Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream (2000), Johnson. Publ. Co.
- Genzlinger, Neil (2018-02-16). "Lerone Bennett Jr., Historian of Black America, Dies at 89". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-01.
- "Lerone Bennett Jr. A Classical Author", African-American Registry.
- Lerone Bennett, "Thomas Jefferson's Negro Grandchildren," EBONY, Vol. X (November 1954), pp. 78–80.
- "Conclusions", Report of the Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Monticello, January 2000, accessed March 9, 2011. 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."
- "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account". Monticello. Thomas Jefferson Foundation. Retrieved November 4, 2011.
- Goldsborough, Bob (February 16, 2018). "Lerone Bennett, historian and former executive editor of Ebony magazine, dies". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2018-03-01.
- 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.
- "Lerone BENNETT III's Obituary on Atlanta Journal-Constitution". January 25, 2013. Retrieved 2018-03-01.
- 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, January–February 2004, accessed 25 May 2009.
- "Candace Award Recipients 1982–1990, Page 1". National Coalition of 100 Black Women. Archived from the original on March 14, 2003.
- Bennett's biography
- Lerone Bennett Jr.'s oral history video excerpts at The National Visionary Leadership Project
- Appearances on C-SPAN