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Simeon Booker, Pioneering Journalist, Dies at 99

The longtime chronicler of the civil rights struggle for Jet and Ebony magazines, had previously integrated the reporting staff of the Washington Post.

Booker's 2013 memoir

Booker's 2013 memoir

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This is the statement released by the National Association of Black Journalists:

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Dec. 11, 2017) —  The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) mourns the loss of Simeon Booker, a pioneering journalist, author and chronicler of the Civil Rights Movement.

Booker, the Jet reporter who brought the 1955 murder of Emmett Till to the forefront of national news, died Dec. 10 at the age of 99, in an assisted-living community in Solomons, Maryland. His wife, Carol, confirmed his death to the Washington Post.

“Simeon Booker’s remarkable career, spanning more than six decades, reminds us how important chronicling the truth and speaking truth to power via the written word is,” said NABJ President Sarah Glover. “Booker’s reports during the Civil Rights Movement shed light on the country’s ills, bringing much-needed perspective; and he did so all while risking his own life to tell the story. Simeon Booker is a role model for black journalists and his life’s work is an example of media excellence that all journalists should strive for.”

WATCH: Simeon Booker’s 2013 NABJ Hall of Fame Induction Video

Booker joined the Washington Post in 1952 and was the first full-time black reporter. He left to become the chief columnist at Jet magazine and the Washington bureau chief for the Johnson Publishing Company.

“God knows, I tried to succeed at the Post. I struggled so hard that friends thought I was dying, I looked so fatigued. After a year and a half, I had to give up. Trying to cover news in a city where even animal cemeteries were segregated overwhelmed me,” Booker said of his time at the Post.

Simeon Booker (Wikipedia)

Bryan Monroe, editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines from 2006-2009 and former NABJ President remembered Booker as the quintessential reporter.

“Mr. Booker knew the facts, he knew his audience, and he would not be stopped,” said Monroe. “He was a kind soul who will be missed by all of us.”

Booker began his journalism career in the 1940s working for black press publications in Cleveland and Baltimore. As racial tensions rose throughout the nation during the 1950s and ’60s, he told riveting stories, about the struggle between Civil Rights activists and segregationists. Booker, the only journalist to make the trip with the first Freedom Riders as they protested transportation segregation laws in 1961, also covered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963, and marched alongside protesters at the 1965 Selma March. Booker brought the front lines of the Civil Rights movement to the millions of Jet and Ebony readers across the nation.

After 65 years of chronicling the broad spectrum of the black experience, Booker retired in 2007.

Simeon Booker, seated at his 2013 book signing, with Jake Oliver, publisher of the Afro-American newspaper; E. R. Shipp, MGJR editor; and Moses Newson, another legend, who covered the Emmett Till case with Booker. (Photo courtesy of E. R. Shipp)

In 2013, Booker completed his memoir, Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement. His work allowed many black people to see themselves, and the things that were important to them, reflected in the media.

Booker was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame in 2013, won a Neiman Fellowship to study at Harvard and received the George Polk Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. Booker was nominated this year by 17 members of Congress for the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, according to The New York Times. He also mentored aspiring student journalists at Howard University.

Marlon A. Walker, NABJ Vice President Print said, “Simeon Booker’s death is felt around the world. His significant contributions to our industry and humanity are monumental and his life’s works should be shared and taught in classrooms, community centers and organizations, as an example of excellence.”

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Booker, a Baltimore native, received numerous awards in a singular career, including the George Polk Award for lifetime achievement and the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award. He is survived by his wife, Carol McCabe Booker, and three children.

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