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Booker, Simeon(1918–) - Journalist, Chronology

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Primarily a journalist who concentrates on race matters, Simeon Booker played a prominent role in documenting activities of the civil rights movement and the work of the Freedom Riders and their efforts to enforce federal legislation to integrate public transportation and interstate travel. In so doing, he lived at risk during the Freedom Rides, though not in fear, concluding that progress would never grow from fear. Like other journalists of that time, he disguised himself with his dress. He was present at all major civil rights demonstrations, including the first march on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery march. He became the Washington Post’s first full-time African American reporter and later one of the first two bureau chiefs for Johnson Publishing Company, with an assignment in Washington, D.C. His illustrious career enabled him to interview the country’s powerbrokers. He is also a columnist for Jet magazine.

The second of four children, Simeon Saunders Booker Jr. was born in Baltimore, Maryland on August 27, 1918, to Simeon Saunders Booker Sr. and Roberta Waring Booker. When Simeon Jr. was five years old, the Booker family relocated to Youngstown, Ohio, where the elder Booker became executive secretary of a local branch of the YMCA. Thirty-five years later he retired and pastored Third Baptist Church in Youngstown. Apparently his father’s service as a preacher impressed Simeon Jr., for later in life as he faced threatening situations while covering civil rights stories, he held a Bible in hand while posing as a preacher—an honorable tribute to his father.


1918 Born in Baltimore, Maryland on August 27

1942 Received B.A. from Virginia Union University

1950 Begins graduate study at Cleveland College; becomes Neiman Fellow at Harvard University

1950? Becomes reporter for the Cleveland Call & Post

1952 Becomes first black full-time reporter for the Washington Post

1955 Named Washington Bureau Chief for Johnson Publishing Company and chief columnist for Jet magazine

1956 Elected president of Capitol Press Club

1959 Becomes syndicated radio commentator for Westinghouse Broadcasting Company

1982 Wins Fourth Estate Award from National Press Club

1984 Inducted into Hall of Fame, Washington chapter, Sigma Delta Chi

1993 Receives Career Achievement Award, Washington Association of Black Journalists

1998 Receives Master Communications Award, National Black Media Coalition

Booker began his college education at Youngstown College but was insulted when he learned that the college distributed activity cards from the YMCA to white students and not to blacks. That led him to transfer to historically black Virginia Union University in Richmond, where he majored in English. To help support himself, he did publicity for the football and basketball teams. During summer vacations he returned to Youngstown and promoted the Negro Baseball League’s games held there. In 1942, Booker graduated from Virginia Union with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Now with a keen interest in journalism, he joined the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper staff as a reporter. He returned to Ohio and about 1950 joined the Cleveland Call & Post . He wrote a series of articles on Cleveland’s slum housing and received the Newspaper Guild Award, becoming the first black reporter to be so honored. Recognition for his fine journalistic skills continued, for later he won the Wilkie Award for another series that he wrote on schools in the ghetto. While with the Cleveland Call & Post , he organized a union and between 1945 and 1950 he also enrolled in graduate courses in radio, script writing, and journalism at Cleveland College.

On November 1, 1945, John H. Johnson founded Ebony magazine, which covered black news in the same way that Life magazine exclusively covered whites. Johnson’s new magazine aimed to appeal to black readers as well as to mirror the civil rights struggle of blacks who sought to desegregate the railroads, busses, lunch counters, hotels, motels, public schools, and other public places. The magazine and its purpose appealed to Booker, who in 1946 wrote his first article for Ebony . He continued to witness and write about racial injustices in the community. Booker lived in a co-op owned by an interracial group of students; there he wrote stories of living conditions among the various groups, including African Americans, Chinese, and Jews. He expanded his focus on racial problems when he joined sociologist Herman Burrell of the Cleveland Urban League in a crosscountry trip by automobile and wrote a series of articles for Johnson Publishing Company. Established first as Negro Digest Publishing Company, in 1949 founder John H. Johnson changed the name to Johnson Publishing Company. Booker’s profiles included the first black cowboy in Wyoming, the first black American Mormons in Utah, and Schofield Barracks in Hawaii—the first racially integrated military site during World War II.

In 1950, Booker won the Nieman Fellowship for study at Harvard University, becoming only the second African American to receive the award since it was founded in 1938. Noted historian Arthur M. Schlesinger guided his research as Booker read widely on the history of African Americans. The fellowship ended in 1951 and Booker moved to Washington, D.C., where he expected to join the Washington Post . Since there was no position available to him then, he worked in a government library until 1952, when he became the Post’s first full-time African American reporter. Disappointed that he was hired as a general assignment reporter but was to write exclusively about African Americans, he left the paper in 1954 and moved to Johnson Publishing Company, where he thought that his articles on his race would be more meaningful. Booker was elevated to bureau chief for its several magazines in 1995 when the company expanded and was assigned to Washington, D.C. He and Allan Morrison, who was assigned to the New York office, became the publishing company’s first bureau chiefs and columnists for Jet magazine. When Johnson Publishing Company decided to open the Washington Bureau, officials faced immediate difficulty in penetrating the real estate market, for there were no black firms located in downtown Washington. This situation forced Booker and his assistant, E. Fannie Granton, to share space in a local law office. When the breakthrough finally came, the company became the first black-owned firm to rent space in a downtown Washington structure. Booker’s training in broadcast journalism fit him well to serve as syndicated radio commentator for Westinghouse Broadcasting Company from 1959 to 1978.

Booker liked writing on civil rights issues, but he could also be as critical as he wished—much more so than he could have been at the Post . Soon Booker ventured into delicate ground, covering the 1955 trials pertaining to the murder of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black youth whom two white men lynched in Mississippi for reportedly whistling at a white woman.

Booker T. and the MGs [next] [back] Booker, James

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