Lerone Bennett Jr.
|Born|| ( 1928-10-17 ) October 17, 1928|
|Died||February 14, 2018 (2018-02-14) (aged 89)|
|Known for||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, Bennett graduated from Morehouse College. Thereafter, he served in the Korean War and began a career in journalism at the Atlanta Daily World before being hired away by Johnson Publishing Company to work for JET magazine. Later, Bennett 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.
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 from 1949 until 1953. He also served as city editor for JET magazine from 1952 to 1953. The magazine was established in 1945 by John H. Johnson, who first founded its parent magazine, Ebony, that year. In 1953, Bennett became associate editor of Ebony magazine and then executive editor from 1958. The magazine served as his base for the publication of series of articles on African-American history. Some were collected and published as books.
He wrote a 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 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.[citation needed ]
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). A longtime resident of Kenwood, Chicago, Bennett died of natural causes at his home there on 14 February 2018, aged 89.