There was a book that my mother had in our living room, in the “you better not touch this” section. Not only did I sneak around to touch it, but I began reading it and taking mental notes.
The book was “Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America” written by Mississippi’s native Ebony magazine’s Lerone Bennett, Jr., which told the story about how Africans were enslaved, sold, captured and brought to America. The book was intellectually riveting, and the facts were straight forward and detailed. It certainly was not the same information that was shared in my social studies classes in elementary school. I may have been in 5th or 6th grade, but I liked reading about my people. I eventually told on myself by discussing several chapters with my school teacher, civil rights marching mother.
In turn, she brought our family to St. Alibe’s Catholic Church during Black History Month, where he was the featured speaker. Mr. Bennett in person was better than the book! He commanded the audience and spoke with precision and force. I was enlightened to listen and watch an articulate, Morehouse educated, dignified Black man speak to an entire church and keep them engaged the entire hour.
So, when I stood at this icon’s casket last month, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for what he did for me and millions of others. I tried to take my mother’s book to college with me, to use as a source on my paper and she said, “No, get your own book.” I was very angry with Mommy, but the lesson I learned was that one must be responsible to build their own library. Her copy was a first edition hardback and my copy was a used paperback. Another lesson learned was if you really admire and respect someone’s work or intellectual property, pay for it. Intellectual property has as much or more value than material things and Mr. Bennett’s work was of a higher echelon than the average reporter Joe, writing for the 6th grade reader in the local newspaper.
Brother Bennett, 89, looked at peace, with his kente cloth vest, and black linen blazer with his matching bow tie. His Kappa Alpha Psi brothers gathered around to serenade and memorialize his life, while family members embraced and looked on.
Hundreds of people poured into A.R. Leak funeral home for the Morehouse College graduate (class of 1949) and Ebony Senior Editor. He graduated from college with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and in 1996, received the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change highest award. Other books that he co-wrote included Ebony founder Mr. John H. Johnson’s autobiography, “Succeeding Against the Odds”, a book about his classmate, Dr. King, “What Manner of Man”, and “Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.” All of his books have received awards and are considered a staple in public libraries and homes.
Speakers included his grandchildren, Saint Sabina pastor Michael L. Pfleger, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Minister Louis Farrakhan and author Rev. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson.
The home going service was standing room only at the one thousand seat Saint Columbanus Catholic Church, which was also were he was married to the late Jet Associate Editor, Gloria Sylvester, for 52 years. She died in 2009. His son, Lerone Bennett III, preceded him in death in 2013. He leaves to cherish three daughters, cousins, nieces, nephews, godchildren and friends.
Brother Bennett has transitioned to the ancestors. His quality of work and public service will be sorely missed throughout the world.