Moneta J. Sleet, Jr. (1926-1996)

Historical Marker #2036 in Owensboro notes the accomplishments of Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Moneta J. Sleet, Jr.

An age-old adage declares that "a picture is worth a thousand words." But a picture also has the power to bring about great change. Since its invention, photography has possessed the unique ability to transport us to places we have never been and see things from different perspectives. Photographs can make calls to action, as well as help us empathize with their subject matter. Some of these aspects likely drew Moneta J. Sleet, Jr. to a career in photography.

Sleet was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 1926. His love of photography began at an early age when his parents gave him a box camera. He continued his fascination with taking pictures while obtaining a business degree at Kentucky State University. There, he came under the tutelage of Dr. John Williams, the dean, and an avid photographer. Sleet continued his education at New York University where he earned a master's degree in journalism in 1950.

Sleet began his journalism career as sportswriter for the "Amsterdam News" in New York City. He then went to work of the African American magazine, "Our World." Johnson Publishing Company, the parent company of "Ebony" and "Jet" magazines, offered Sleet a job in 1955 when "Our World" went out of business. Sleet's career with Johnson lasted until his death in 1996.

One of Sleet's early assignments was to cover the young up-and-coming Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The two formed a lasting friendship from that first meeting. Sleet went on to cover King's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. In 1969, Sleet earned international acclaim for his 1968 photograph of Coretta Scott King at Dr. King's funeral. The image won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography.

Sleet continued to work for "Ebony" and "Jet" magazines, and his work was exhibited in museums across the United States. He received awards from the National Urban League and the National Association of Black Journalists. Sleet passed away in 1996 at age 70.