Veteran Civil Rights Reporter Simeon Booker Receives CBC 2010 Phoenix Award

Special to the NNPA | 10/17/2010, 11:34 a.m.

Phoenix Award Recipient Veteran Journalist Simeon Booker
and CBC Member Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) exchange greetings
during the CBC black tie dinner. Courtesy Photo.

Veteran civil rights reporter, Simeon Booker, told the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Awards Dinner, "our struggle is far from over," as he accepted the organization's 2010 Phoenix Award for lifetime achievement.

Acknowledging the gains made through Black voting power during the past six decades, Booker urged more attention to the remaining "challenges" of enormous Black poverty, high unemployment, a disproportionate black prison population, too few college grads, and too many teenage pregnancies.

Booker retired in 2007 after more than 50 years as Jet/Ebony Washington Bureau Chief, and is currently working on a retrospective of his half-century of civil rights and political reporting. Recalling his first foray into the Deep South was to cover a voting rights rally in Mississippi in 1955, Booker, who received the NNPA Foundation 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award, described it as a "frightening experience" for a Northern-born and reared reporter.

He went on to cover some of the most horrific events of the era, including the lynching of civil rights workers, and the Emmett Till kidnapping and murder trial, which sent shock waves across the country, igniting the civil rights movement. In May 1961, after two interstate buses were waylaid by the KKK in Alabama, Attorney General Robert Kennedy responded to reporter Booker's call for help by sending a plane to rescue the badly beaten Freedom Riders.

A Harvard Nieman Fellow in Journalism in 1951, Booker spoke out on national and international human rights issues as a nationally-broadcast commentator for Westinghouse radio stations in the 1970's, and in 1982 was the first Black to receive the National Press Club's Fourth Estate Award, its highest honor for journalists.

President Obama brought the 4,000 dinner attendees to their feet with a rallying call for greater political involvement. The Foundation's other honorees, entertainer/activist Harry Belafonte, choreographer Judith Jamison, and NJ State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, echoed the call for awareness and action. The dinner, climaxing the Caucus's Legislative Week, is an annual fundraiser for the CBCF.