Remembering Lerone Bennett, Black Press Giant

by: Kamau High AFRO Managing Editor,
/ (US National Archive) /

Lerone Bennett Jr., a long time editor at Ebony magazine, died earlier this year.

Bennett, who wrote numerous books on African American history, such as Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America and Great Moments in Black History: Wade in the Water, was remembered for his passion and advocacy of the importance of Black History.

Bennett at work at Ebony Magazine. (US National Archive)

“A classmate & biographer of Dr. King, during the turbulent 60’s, his was a pen that mattered. As historian, author of ‘Before the Mayflower’, editor of Ebony magazine, the most read voice of the freedom struggle, his impact will long be felt and remembered. #RIP #LeroneBennettJr,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote on Twitter.

Bennett, who died at the age of 89 from vascular dementia in Feb., was born in Mississippi and graduated from Morehouse College. In a statement the school noted, “He honed his journalistic talent at Morehouse College, where he developed a passion for writing, research, and intellectual debate. Bennett served as an apprentice on the Maroon Tiger school newspaper in the 1940s. He was on staff when early writings by Martin Luther King Jr.’48 were published in the Maroon Tiger. Bennett also served as an editor for the newspaper.”

After starting out at the Atlanta Daily World Bennett became the city editor for Jet and then moved to its sister publication Ebony, where he was an editor for nearly 40 years.

“Lerone worked side by side with my father in establishing EBONY’s voice,” Ebony CEO Linda Johnson Rice told the publication. “He was the guiding light for the editorial vision of EBONY. Lerone was not just essential in the formation of EBONY’s historic trajectory, he was a pillar in the Black community. His legacy will continue to serve his successors in academia and beyond.”

To get an idea of the power of his ideas, watch this speech he gave at Cornell University in 2012 on Lincoln, the Gettysburg Address and Race.