Sleet was born February 14, 1926 in Owensboro, Kentucky. He graduated cum laude from Kentucky State University in 1947 and earned his Master’s degree in journalism from New York University in 1950. Sleet went to work for Ebony Magazine in 1955 and over the next 41 years he captured photos many significant African American individuals and events, including a young Muhammad Ali, Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, Billie Holliday, and a grieving Betty Shabazz at the funeral of Malcolm X.
His photograph of Coretta Scott King at the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. Sleet’s collection, “Special Moments in African American History: The Photographs of Moneta Sleet, Jr. 1955 – 1996,” was published posthumously in 1999.