America lost one of the most courageous journalists ever to put pen to paper.
Simeon Booker died Dec. 10 at an assisted-living community in Solomons, Maryland. He was 99 years old.
Booker was part journalist, part historian, part philosopher – a gifted writer who covered the Civil Rights Movement, exposed racism, and served as the nation’s Black consciousness for five decades.
“From an early age, I knew I wanted to be a writer,” Booker told The Vindicator newspaper of Youngstown in 2013. “Teaching and preaching were the best advances for Blacks at the time. But I wanted to write.”
Booker was born on Aug. 27, 1918, in Baltimore, Md. After his family moved to Youngstown, Ohio, according to The History Makers, Booker became interested in journalism through a family friend, Carl Murphy, the then owner of Baltimore’s The AFRO-American Newspapers. In 1942, after receiving his B.A. degree in English from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Booker was hired by Murphy as a reporter for The Afro American Newspapers.
In 1945, Booker moved back to Ohio to work for the Cleveland Call and Post. Five years later, Booker was the recipient of a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University to study journalism and develop his talent as a reporter, according to The History Makers.
After leaving Harvard in 1951, Booker became the first full-time Black reporter at The Washington Post. In 1954, Booker was hired by the Johnson Publishing Company to report on current events in its weekly digest, Jet. In 1955, according to The History Makers, Booker helped to redefine the role of Jet and the entire Civil Rights Movement with his famous coverage of the Emmett Till murder and trial.
Booker wrote a popular column for Jet called Ticker Tape U.S.A. reporting on the civil rights struggle from an African American perspective.
“I stayed on the road, covering civil rights day and night,” Booker once said. “The names, the places, and the events became history.”
Booker often put his life on the line while covering stories. For his safety, he would sometimes pose as a minister and he once escaped a racist mob by hiding in the back of a hearse.
He was one of the few Black reporters assigned in Washington, D.C.; he covered 10 U.S. presidents and traveled to Southeast Asia to report on the Vietnam War.
He was a powerful voice for Black America and he left a lasting legacy for Black journalists to follow.