cover image ‘Ebony’ Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr.: Popular Black History in Postwar America

‘Ebony’ Magazine and Lerone Bennett Jr.: Popular Black History in Postwar America

James West. Univ. of Illinois, $24.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-252-08498-0

Historian West expertly chronicles how Ebony magazine and its executive editor Lerone Bennett Jr. shaped cultural perception of African-American history. He illustrates how Ebony evolved from its 1945 launch as an aspirational celebrity magazine to become a chronicle for commentary on current events in the 1960s, such as the Black Power movement and MLK’s assassination. Bennett joined the magazine in 1953 and was promoted to executive five years later; each month the magazine featured Bennett’s political columns, in which his iconoclastic points of view on figures such as Nat Turner grew his scholarly stature to the point that he was made chair of the African-American History department at Northwestern University. Special editions of the magazine, such as its “Emancipation Proclamation” issue in 1963, served as markers of the magazine’s maturity and gained it distribution in schools; meanwhile the magazine’s book publishing arm grew in reputation with such controversial titles as 1963’s Before the Mayflower. West’s account of the magazine’s trajectory offers insight as to how Ebony shaped the black experience in America through Bennett’s columns, but unfortunately doesn’t dig very deeply into the effects of the magazine’s pop culture coverage. This astute history shines a welcome light on a pioneering journalist. (Feb.)