How Ebony magazine engaged and reacted to the Black Power movement in the 1960s and 1970s

Sid Ahmed ZIANE is a PhD student at Manchester Metropolitan University. He studies African American history and his area of interest revolves around race and media in Post-war America. He is currently working on a project which looks at the correlation between the modern black print media and the modern black liberation movement in the US.

Lerone Bennett Jr. was senior editor for Ebony magazine, a widely read black magazine owned by the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC). He was also a popular historian as he wrote many articles and special features in Ebony, which focused on black history. His aim centred mainly on revealing to Ebony’s audience the buried history of black accomplishments and their excellence. Bennett also sought to develop more historiographical and critically incisive perspectives in major publications that he printed such as Before the Mayflower and The Shaping of Black America.

Some scholars such as E. James West and Cristopher Tinson have recently examined Bennett’s career and revealed how he emerged as a popular black historian and intellectual in Post-war America.[1] Yet, there remains more to be said about Bennett as a writer, an activist, and a Black Power advocate. Indeed, the archival papers of Bennett housed at Stuart A. Rose at Emory University demonstrate that Bennett was more of a historian or an editor. Indeed, Bennett was also an activist during the Civil Rights movement. He marched arm-in-arm with black protestors while writing in Ebony about the major milestones of the Civil Rights such as the March on Washington. He also cooperated with Dr. Martin Luther King by holding open meetings in Chicago and Atlanta and even helping Dr. King to become a regular contributor for Ebony. He later metamorphosed from a Civil Rights exponent into a black radical as he endorsed Stokely Carmichael and his call for Black Power in the mid-1960s.

I was glad to be awarded a fellowship at Stuart A. Rose Library at Emory University to consult Bennett’s archival materials. I have spent three weeks at the library, examining and navigating through the archives. My research was really valuable as it has helped me to better understand Bennett as an activist and a Black Power exponent. I have come across rich, yet interesting papers, photographs, and letters which cement my argument that Bennett was indeed a Civil Rights activist, and later a Black Power advocate. For example. I have found some correspondence between Bennett and Martin Luther King about organizing meetings or planning for protests or photographs showing King and Bennett protesting. Not to mention a deluge of letters sent to Bennett by other Civil Rights organizations such as SCLC, CORE, and NAACP, or focal figures such as Amiri Baraka or Coretta Scott King. There are also some drafts about important meetings that Bennett attended such as the Sixth Pan African Congress (1973). Other invitation letters written to Bennett by major Black Power leaders such as Gaidi Obadele (formerly known as Milton Henry), one of the founders of Republic of New Africa (RNA), are also striking.

These materials and many more have provided me with a nuanced understating of Bennett as an activist and a Black Power proponent. His meetings with Civil Rights and Black Power activists and his participation in major Civil Rights demonstrations and his interviews and photographs with important individuals and ex-Civil Rights activists will be a significant addition to my forthcoming article: “Lerone Bennett Jr.: the Bearded Militant”.

[1] West, Lerone Bennett and Ebony Magazine, Ebony Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr. Popular History in Post War America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2020); Christopher M. Tinson, ‘Held in Trust by History: Lerone Bennett Jr., Intellectual Activism, and the Historical Profession,’ Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies, 12.7, pp.175-191, in <> [accessed 16 September 2021].