The story of the Civil Rights Movement has been chronicled and retold by hundreds of thousands of reporters, scholars, preachers, teachers – even parents, grandparents and next-door neighbors. But very few risked their very life to uncover and share the truth behind the fight for civil rights like veteran reporter Simeon Booker did – the former Washington bureau chief for both Jet and Ebony magazines where he worked his craft to perfection for more than 50 years.
Booker, who died Dec. 10 in Solomons, Maryland, at the age of 99 and bore the distinction of being the first full-time Black reporter for The Washington Post prior to joining Johnson Publications (the parent company for the weekly Jet and month Ebony magazines) in 1954, bravely accepted the assignment of traveling to the South from where he sent his reports that eventually reached millions of Black readers from coast to coast.
He intuitively reached out to a grieving Mamie Till-Mobley after the heinous murder of her son, Emmett, in the summer of 1955, standing beside her at Emmett’s funeral, becoming a trusted friend and later braving all in order to travel to Mississippi where he covered the trial of the 15-year-old boy’s accused murderers. Booker had never been to the Deep South prior to the trial but he soon experienced the constant dangers it held for all Blacks, regardless of age. Still, he refused to return to the North or abandon his assignment until an all-white jury found Emmett’s killers not guilty.
Booker, years later, professed that he had always had but one compelling ambition: “to fight segregation on the front lines.” In fact, he would say, “I wanted to dedicate my writing skills to the cause [because] segregation was beating down my people.”
And so, Simeon Booker remained on the front lines, in the clear aim of numerous, untold potential assassins, including the Ku Klux Klan. During one interview, he recalled that in order to escape death at the hands of the Klan, he had to hide in a hearse in order to secure a quick getaway and escape unscathed.
The stories he covered, the reports he filed and the terrible examples of man’s inhumanity to man, would all bear his byline – and later become staples of the chronicled history of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Day or night, he wrote down the names, the places and the chains of events that both shaped and changed America forever – also paving the way for Blacks to secure a modicum of equality in a country that claimed to be the “land of the free” but which has yet to live up to such lofty rhetoric.
We thank our brother, Simeon Booker, for his many sacrifices, any of which could have easily resulted in a slow and painful death, and we salute him because of the courage he exhibited both throughout his career and his life.