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Lerone Bennett

Historian Lerone Bennett served as the executive editor of Ebony for almost forty years. His written work deftly explored the history of race relations in the United States as well as the current environment in which African Americans strive for equality. Bennett was born on October 17, 1928, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to Lerone and Alma Reed Bennett. When Bennett was young, his family moved to Jackson, Mississippi, and it was here, while attending Jackson's public schools, that Bennett's interest in journalism was initiated.

Bennett attended Morehouse College, earning a B.A. in 1949. He always considered Morehouse as the center of his academic development. After graduating, Bennett formally entered the world of journalism as a reporter for the now defunct Atlanta Daily World. He became the city editor for the magazine and worked there until 1953, when he began his work as an associate editor at Jet magazine in Chicago, Illinois. In 1954, Bennett became an associate editor at Ebony and he was promoted to senior editor of the magazine in 1958. Since then, his comprehensive articles became one of the magazine's literary hallmarks.

A series of articles originally published in Ebony resulted in Bennett's first book, a seminal piece of work, Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619-1962. The book, with its comprehensive examination of the history of African Americans in the United States, gave Bennett the reputation of a first-class popular historian. In his eight subsequent books, Bennett continued to document the historical forces shaping the Black experience in the United States. His other works included: What Manner of Man?, Pioneers In Protest and The Shaping of Black America.

Bennett received numerous awards such as the Literature Award of the Academy of Arts and Letters, Book of the Year Award from Capital Press Club and the Patron Saints Award from the Society of Midland Authors. He served as advisor and consultant to several national organizations and commissions, including the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Bennett's articles, short stories and poems have been translated into five languages.

Bennett passed away on February 14, 2018 at age 89.

Accession Number

A2002.167

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/29/2002

Last Name

Bennett

Maker Category
Organizations
Search Occupation Category
First Name

Lerone

Birth City, State, Country

Clarksdale

HM ID

BEN01

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Chicago, Illinois

Favorite Quote

Never give up.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

10/17/1928

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Greens (Collard)

Death Date

2/14/2018

Short Description

Historian Lerone Bennett (1928 - 2018 ) served as the executive editor of Ebony magazine for almost forty years. His written work, including a seminal piece of literature, "Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619-1962," explored the history of race relations in the United States, as well as the current environment in which African Americans strive for equality.

Employment

Atlanta Daily World

Jet Magazine

Ebony Magazine

Favorite Color

Brown

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lerone Bennett interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett talks about his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett talks briefly about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett remembers his earliest memories and the sensorial aspects from his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett describes his passion for reading as a child

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lerone Bennett shares stories about his mother's influence on his education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lerone Bennett comments on his education in the segregated South

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Lerone Bennett recalls the oppressive, violent racism in Mississippi during his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett remembers racist incidents he saw while playing in a band as a teenager in Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett describes his the neighborhood of his youth in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett talks about his family's musical talent

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett discusses his study of Abraham Lincoln

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett recalls his favorite teachers and his decision to go to Morehouse College

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett recalls his first impressions of Atlanta and Morehouse College in 1945

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett remembers Morehouse College president, Benjamin E. Mays

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett discusses his career aspirations and his foray into journalism

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett talks about the journalistic issues covered by the 'Atlanta Daily World' in the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett talks about John H. Johnson's recruitment of black journalistic talent for his magazines

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett analyzes John H. Johnson's visionary creation of a publishing empire

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Lerone Bennett talks about his exciting early years at 'Ebony' magazine

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett discusses his history series, 'Before the Mayflower'

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett talks about how 'Before the Mayflower' was received by the general public

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett explains the choice of subject matter in his book 'Before the Mayflower'

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett talks about how his books have been received by historical scholars

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett discusses 'What Manner of Man' and comments on the 'Negro Digest'

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett compares public response to his 1968 article and 2000 book on Abraham Lincoln's racism

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Lerone Bennett talks about his writings in relation to his work at 'Ebony' magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett talks about the difficulty in writing his book, 'Forced Into Glory'

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett confronts his detractors regarding Abraham Lincoln

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett criticizes American scholarship for supporting the status quo

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett contrasts Lincoln's wish to deport blacks with Garvey and Theodor Herzl's calls for immigration of their people

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett discusses authors Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and racism in America today

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett comments on reparations for slavery, Part 1

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Lerone Bennett comments on reparations for slavery, Part 2

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Lerone Bennett discusses his hopes and concerns for African Americans

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Lerone Bennett talks about changes in the African American community and its youth

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Lerone Bennett details his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Lerone Bennett discusses lessons he would like to pass on to youth

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Lerone Bennett talks about what he hopes his legacy might be

DASession

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DATape

3$4

DAStory

5$1

DATitle
Lerone Bennett talks about John H. Johnson's recruitment of black journalistic talent for his magazines
Lerone Bennett discusses his history series, 'Before the Mayflower'
Transcript
Now who came to 'Ebony' fir--did Bob [Robert Edward] Johnson come--?$$(Simultaneously) Bob came first.$$He came first. Okay, and do you remember how that even happened?$$Well at the time--Mr. [John H.] Johnson started 'Ebony' in '45 [1945], and in '51 [1951] started 'Jet', and he was in the process in '51 [1951] or so, I guess, he planned a number of other magazines, all sorts of things he's planning. He was in the process to my understanding of trying to find and bring to Chicago [Illinois] all of the best black journalistic talent in the country. He was offering what was considered outrageous salaries to come to, come to Chicago. He brought a whole number of--Vincent Tubbs and [Art] Carter and people from the 'Afro [American'] in Baltimore [Maryland]. He brought Simeon Booker from the Nieman Fellowship, so he brought Bob [Robert E. Johnson] from Atlanta [Georgia], so he was in the process of bringing as many of what he considered good writers and photo-, photographers to Chicago, and he offered Bob a job and Bob came. And it's my understanding, I know it's true, that when Bob got here he told them that "There's another young man down there that you really ought to take a look at." and he did and he offered me a (unclear) job and I came here.$$And do you remember--So you came here with great anticipations. This is the 'Ebony', very very new in its beginning.$$Oh it was about eight years old but it was still a new thing.$$It was still new.$$It was still a new thing and the, the possibilities for journalism we thought were unbelievable, especially because we did a number of things, that--we traveled everywhere, money was not an issue. We traveled to the islands, to Africa. If there was a story in Los Angeles [California], we traveled everywhere. We traveled--if not first class, the same way other journalists traveled, so it was a very exciting era for blacks and journalists never seen before, so it was, it was a good time.$How did 'Before the Mayflower [A History of Black America]' fit within the context of this? Was it encouraged? Because it almost seems like, in many ways, it was an incubator, you know. I mean it's not how you describe but, you know, it could have been that you weren't encouraged to write so I'm just try--I mean when I say "write," write your-- a book. So I'm just wondering, you know, here you're saying, you know, people are learning how to sell advertising. You know, there's this whole push to do something of quality. You know, you're almost inventing things, doing something different than your typical black newspaper. But I'm just wondering, how did 'Before the Mayflower' come out of this thing, and it's--really comes nine years--it's published nine years after your coming to Johnson Publishing [Company].$$Well, it was a part of our--all explosion. I had been studying black history all my life, virtually. And as soon as I got to 'Ebony', we got, we began to get more letters saying, "You know, why don't you do something on this or why don't you do something on that?" And Mr. [John H.] Johnson said, "You know--you--we've talked about stories of what you could do." Said, "It would be a good idea to do a history series." Then the question was, who could do it? I said, "Well, I've been studying history all these years. I can do it." So he said, "Try it," and so I started the history series, and it was received, you know, very, very well. One of the things we tried to do in that and one of the things we were forced to do because we started out in a popular medium, one of the things we were forced to do is to try to make it dramatic, exciting, human, readable; the same sort of thing, same kind of feeling I got from M.B. Manning [at Lanier High School] in Jackson, Mississippi. So we tried to make it dramatic and human and readable, and people have been kind enough to say that we succeeded on some levels. So it was published in a book and, oh, that's been forty years ago, forty years ago this August. It's still August. Forty years ago and it's been selling well for forty years. And it was voted at the end of the century--a number of people and a number of lists--most of the lists said that it was one of the most important book, black books, of the 20th century. And we'd been doing that since and 'Ebony' was one of the leaders in the whole black history movement, the whole popular black history movement. Of course, Carter G. Woodson and John Hope Franklin and Benjamin Quarles and the great teachers in Chicago [Illinois] led that movement, but we had a chance to do something on a popular level, and we're still involved in it.