Crusader Staff Report
Lerone Bennett, Jr., the former celebrated executive editor of Ebony and Jet magazines, who spent four decades at the iconic publications and became Black America’s unofficial historian, died Wednesday, February 14. He was 89.
AA Rayner Funeral Home confirmed his death to the Chicago Crusader.
Bennett spent 40 years at Ebony and Jet when the publications were owned by the Johnson Publishing Company on Michigan Avenue. With his insightful stories and passion for Black culture, he rose through the ranks of the esteemed company and became a prominent voice for Black America.
“Lerone worked side by side with my father in establishing Ebony’s voice,” Ebony CEO Linda Johnson Rice said Wednesday. “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.”
During a 2010 interview with the Visionary Project, Bennett incidentally prophesied the future of journalism: “I’ve always believed that you write history one day and you write entertainment the next.”
Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Bennett’s family moved to Jackson, Mississippi. While attending Jackson’s public schools, Bennett grew interested in journalism according to HistoryMakers, the prominent Chicago-based database on America’s Black pioneers.
In 1949, Bennett graduated from Morehouse College with a bachelor’s degree. He began his journalism career at the Black newspaper, the Atlanta Daily World, where he became city editor. The following year, he became the associate editor of Jet magazine when it was a weekly publication. In 1954, Bennett became an associate editor at Ebony. He was promoted to senior editor of the magazine in 1958. In 1988, he assumed the position of executive editor at Ebony.
Bennett turned a series of articles published in Ebony into his first book, Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619-1962. The book, which provides a thorough examination of the history of Black Americans, earned Bennett a reputation as an important historian on the Black experience. He went on to write eight books, many of which documented the historic events and people that shaped Black Americans. His other books include: What Manner of Man?, Pioneers In Protest and The Shaping of Black America.
Bennett is among dozens of Black journalists listed in the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Black Journalists. In his illustrious career, he 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.
Funeral service arrangements are incomplete at press time.