Home > Uncategorized > February 14 – Moneta J. Sleet, Jr.

February 14 – Moneta J. Sleet, Jr.

The first African-American journalist ever to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism was born on this day, February 14, 1926. Here is the photo that earned him this distinction. Do you know who journalist was? And do you know who is featured in this photograph?

Moneta J. Sleet, Jr. was born in Owensboro, Kentucky and was the editor of his local high school newspaper. At the age of 18, Sleet decided to enlist, and served in the US Army from 1944-1946. Afterwards, he earned his Bachelor of Arts at Kentucky State University and then his Masters in Journalism at New York University.

Five years later, in 1955, he went to work for Ebony Magazine, and would for the next 41 years proceed to capture images of numerous significant and influential African Americans and events including a young Muhammad Ali, Stevie Wonder at a recording session without his sunglasses, a dejected, puffy-faced, needle-scarred Billie Holiday a year before she died, independence celebrations in African nations, civil-rights marches in America, the homes and work places of celebrities, death row, beauty contests and visits to such places as a West Virginia mining town and Miami after a riot. By all accounts, he was a “gentle man,” and it was no doubt this gentleness that granted him access to so many intimate, unguarded moments in his subjects’ lives.

In 1969, Sleet won the Pulitzer for his photograph of Coretta Scott King tearfully clasping her daughter Bernice at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.‘s funeral. At a time of great shock in mourning in America, Sleet’s photo captured the deep sorrow and quiet strength felt by many who believed in the Civil Rights Movement.

Sleet’s Pulitzer was the first to a black man and the first and only one to anyone working for a black publication.

Thanks for reading,


ps. On a closely related note, and for those of you who are interested, Julie Nanney has a book recommendation for us! Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides “gives a very detailed account of MLK’s last days and James Earl Ray’s activities before and after the assassination. There was so much about the story I did not know…”


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