August 27, 1918 – December 10, 2017
Trailblazing civil rights journalist Simeon Booker died December 10, 2017 at the age of 99. Booker's more than half-century of civil rights reporting – most notably, the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi – helped propel the civil rights struggle onto the front pages of newspapers across the country that had long ignored the oppression of Black Americans. Previously, he had been the first full-time black reporter at the Washington Post.
Simeon Saunders Booker Jr. was born on August 27, 1918, in Baltimore, Maryland to Roberta Waring and Simeon Saunders Booker Sr., a YMCA director and minister. After his family moved to Youngstown, Ohio, Booker became interested in journalism through a family friend, Carl Murphy, the owner and operator of Baltimore's The Afro American Newspapers.
In 1942, after receiving his B.A. degree in English from Virginia Union University in Richmond, Booker took a job at The Afro American Newspapers as a young reporter. In 1945, he moved back to Ohio to work for the Call and Post. Five years later, Booker was the recipient of the Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University to study journalism and develop his talent as a reporter. 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, 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, turning an all-too-familiar event in the Deep South into a national tragedy that united the black community. Booker remained on the dangerous front lines of the Civil Rights Movement, reporting on the 1957 integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.
In 1961, Booker rode with the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) Freedom Riders through the Deep South. When the buses were fire bombed in Anniston, Alabama, Booker arranged the Freedom Riders' evacuation with U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. Continuing his work of in-depth reporting, Booker toured Vietnam and interviewed General Westmoreland for Jet in the mid-1960s.
In 1964, Booker outlined the importance of the ongoing Civil Rights Movement in his book, Black Man's America. Booker covered every presidential election since the Eisenhower Administration in his 53 years with Johnson Publishing until he retired in 2007.
Among his journalistic holdings, Booker has also authored four books. They include a 2013 memoir, Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter's Account of the Civil Rights Movement, which was co-written with his wife, Carol McCabe Booker.
In 1982, Booker received one of the most prestigious awards in journalism, the National Press Club's Fourth Estate Award. Booker was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Newspaper Publishers Association, The Black Press of America, in 2007. The National Association of Black Journalists' inducted Booker into its Hall of Fame in 2013. He also received a career George Polk Award for lifetime achievements in journalism and the top award among journalists upon the 70th Anniversary of the Capital Press Club, proclaiming him "Dean of Black Journalists, Iconic Trailblazer for Justice in America."
He is survived by his wife, Carol, and four children, Theodore Booker, Simeon Booker III, James Booker, and Theresa Booker.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Simeon Booker Scholarship at Youngstown State University. All gifts designated for this minority scholarship are matched by the Youngstown State U Foundation, to which checks should be payable, at 655 Wick Avenue, Youngstown, Ohio 44502.