In December, Ohio Congressmen Tim Ryan, a Democrat, and Dave Joyce, a Republican, introduced legislation calling for the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the famous civil rights reporter Simeon Booker.
Booker is perhaps one of the most well-known African-American journalists, and is often called the “Dean of the Black Press.” As Johnson Publishing Company’s Washington Bureau Chief and White House Correspondent for more than 50 years, he wrote the weekly column “Tickertape USA” for Jet magazine, a one-page capsule of news and achievements by personalities that was a must-read for African-Americans across the nation.
His coverage of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s was courageous and highly influential. In 1955, he covered the Mississippi kidnapping and murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till so thoroughly that his reporting is credited with galvanizing the nascent Civil Rights Movement. He went on to cover the murders, marches, sit-ins and freedom rides of the movement, often putting his own life in danger. He also covered 10 U.S. presidents and twice traveled to Vietnam during the war there to report on the heroism of soldiers whose rights were still unsecured at home.
His distinguished career as a journalist began as a youth when he wrote for the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator and the Buckeye Review. After graduating from Virginia Union University in Richmond in 1942, he worked for the Baltimore Afro-American from 1942 to 1944, and the Cleveland Call and Post from 1944 to 1951. He was awarded the coveted Nieman Fellowship in journalism at Harvard University for the 1950-1951 academic year, and he was the first African-American reporter at The Washington Post from 1951 to 1953. His career with Johnson Publishing spanned from 1953 until 2007, when he retired.
Booker has received countless awards for his achievements, and it is high time that he is awarded Congress’ highest honor, the Congressional Gold Medal. It is hard to think what the civil rights struggle and, indeed, America would be today without the breakthrough reporting and writing that Simeon Booker contributed over his career.
We call for our representatives in Congress to support Congressmen Ryan and Joyce’s legislation, and we thank Simeon Booker for his outstanding career. He is quite simply one of the greatest journalists in the history of the news business.
Derrick A. Humphries is a founding partner of the law office of Humphries & Partners, PLLC, based in Washington, D.C., with a diverse, global legal services network. He was formerly Legal Counsel and Media Director for the Congressional Black Caucus.