Simeon Booker came to be regarded as the ‘Dean of the Black Press’ and for good reason. The legendary journalist was a trailblazer who opened the doors of the newsroom to a generation of Black journalists who followed in his footsteps. His legendary career is now the subject of legislation, H.R. 812, introduced by Rep Tim Ryan (D) of Ohio’s 13th congressional district. Ohio is where Booker spent his formative years and began his historic career. The bill is co-sponsored by several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) among a host of co-sponsors.
Booker was born in Baltimore Maryland in 1918 and later moved with his family to Ohio. It was in Youngstown Ohio that Booker gained an interest in journalism, covering Negro League baseball for the city’s local newspaper, The Vindicator. In 1945 he went to work for the Call and Post in Cleveland and became the first Black reporter to win a Newspaper Guild Award for his series on the city’s slum housing. Booker also won a Willkie Award for his reporting on racial disparities in public schools.
In 1950 Simeon Booker was awarded a Nieman Fellowship from Harvard University to study journalism, and the following year he earned the distinction of becoming the first full-time Black reporter for The Washington Post. His work covering the murder of Emmett Till put the struggles of southern Blacks into the national consciousness. He continued to make his mark covering the civil rights movement; reporting on such events as the integration of Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas in 1957, riding with the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) Freedom Rides through the south and other significant moments of the 20th century. He also covered the Vietnam War as the chief of the Washington Bureau of Ebony and Jet magazines. Ticker Tape U.S.A., his column in Jet magazine became a must read for government officials. He covered every presidential election in his 53-year career from Eisenhower’s victory until Booker retired in 2007 during the administration of President George W. Bush. Booker chronicled the period in two books, Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement in 2013 and Black Man’s America published in 1964.
Simeon Booker was the recipient of many honors during his illustrious career. He was elected the president of the Capital Press Club in 1956; received the Fourth Estate Award from the National Press Club in 1982, was bestowed the Phoenix Award from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation in 2010 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Black Journalists in 2013.
This is not the first time members of Congress sought to have Simeon Booker recognized for his iconic career. In 2015 Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D) and Rep. Ryan urged President Obama to award Booker the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The letter to President Obama was signed by the senators from the state of Maryland and 31 members of the House of Representatives, in addition to Brown and Ryan. The current bill, H.R. 812, was referred to the House Committee on Financial Services for consideration.