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.
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. 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," 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 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." 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.
He married Gloria Sylvester on July 21, 1956. They had four children together: Alma Joy, Constance, Courtney, and Lerone III.2003 – Carter G. Woodson Lifetime Achievement Award from Association for the Study of African American Life and History
1978 – Literature Award of the 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.