Award-winning journalist Simeon Booker, who grew up in Youngstown and has long been considered the “dean” of black journalists, receives a honorary Doctor of Letters degree at Youngstown State University’s Fall Commencement at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, in Beeghly Center.
Booker, who retired in 2007 after more than 50 years as Washington bureau chief and White House correspondent for Jet and Ebony magazines, will also give the commencement address.
Born in Baltimore in 1918, Booker moved to Youngstown at the age of seven. His father, S.S. Booker, was secretary of the black branch of the Youngstown YMCA and later pastor of Third Baptist Church. As a youth, Booker submitted articles to the Youngstown Vindicator and covered sports for the Buckeye Review. After high school, he enrolled in Youngstown College, but refused to continue there after learning that black students at the YMCA-sponsored school were not allowed activity cards. His father encouraged him to transfer to his own alma mater, Virginia Union University in Richmond, from which he graduated in 1942.
Booker’s first job was in the city room of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper. Two years later, he joined the Cleveland Call and Post, where he won a Newspaper Guild award for a series on exploitation of slum housing, and a Willkie award for his reporting on racial inequality in Cleveland public schools. After three tries, he won the award that Booker calls the turning point in his career, the coveted Nieman Fellowship in journalism at Harvard University for the 1950-51 academic year. After his Nieman year, he joined The Washington Post, becoming its first black staff reporter. After two years as a general beat reporter, Booker decided that he could make his greatest contribution to the cause of civil rights by joining the pocket-size weekly that would soon become the “bible” for news about the Black community — Jet magazine.
It was as a reporter for Jet magazine that Booker ventured for the first time into the Deep South. His coverage of the Mississippi kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till is credited with galvanizing the growing civil rights movement. Booker covered murders, marches, sit-ins and freedom rides; he also twice followed black troops to Vietnam to report on the heroism of soldiers whose rights were still unsecured in their own hometowns.
In the 1970s, Booker also reached a nationwide audience as a commentator for Westinghouse radio.
Booker’s eyewitness account of a half century of American history, titled Shocking the Conscience, was published this year by University Press of Mississippi. His collaborator on the book was his wife of 40 years, retired attorney and former journalist, Carol Booker. This past January, Booker was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Black Journalists.