President Donald Trump can leapfrog Barack Obama among Blacks by doing something Barack neglected to do: award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Simeon Booker, the late Washington bureau chief of Jet and Ebony magazines for five decades.
Booker, who died Dec. 10 at an assisted-living community in Solomons, Md., at 99, represents Blacks’ rise from pre-war Jim Crow to contemporary race restrictions. An esteemed Black pioneer, he was a leader to and among reporters on race. His work appeared in leading news publications for more than 50 years.
Booker was known for his journalistic works during the civil rights movement, particularly his coverage of the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. He was the first full-time Black reporter for The Washington Post, serving on the newspaper’s staff for two years before joining Johnson Publishing Co. to write for Jet and Ebony in 1954.
The Till murder was “the first great media event of the civil rights movement,” according to historian David Halberstam. But the Black Press scooped them all. A Jet photographer, David Jackson, photographed Till’s body, which thousands of mourners observed at his funeral. No mainstream news outlets published the images of Till’s body. But their appearance in Jet and several other African-American publications helped make the Till murder a matter.
As Jet’s man in Washington, Booker maintained offices as the publication’s bureau chief, running the Johnson company’s office in the capital. Booker wrote a column for Jet called Ticker Tape U.S.A. and led editorial coverage of the executive and legislative branches at a time when Black reporters were largely excluded from news events, as from everyday life. Booker received an English degree in 1942 from Virginia Union University, a historically black institution in Richmond, and then began his career at the Baltimore Afro-American. He later joined the Cleveland Call and Post, also an African-American publication, where he received a Newspaper Guild Award for a series covering slum housing.
Booker is an icon for Blacks and is surely worthy of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is — along with the comparable Congressional Gold Medal — the highest civilian award of the United States. If Trump ever took notice of Blacks, he’d see the benefit in making Simeon Booker a member of the 2018 medal recipients and correcting this oversight.
More African Americans should be focused on righting wrongs. Lobby the Trump administration officials to give Booker an award he justly deserves.
William Reed is publisher of “Who’s Who in Black Corporate America” and available for projects via Busxchng@his.com.