Curtis Stephen, an LIU Brooklyn adjunct journalism professor and alumnus, praised the legacy of legendary journalist Simeon Booker in a tribute recently published in the Columbia Journalism Review under the heading, “Simeon Booker was a leader among early, unheralded reporters on race.”
Thanks in part to Stephen, a member of the George Polk Awards’ panel of advisors, Booker was honored for his accomplishments in 2016. When Booker took the stage at the ceremony to accept his life-time career achievement award, he received a standing ovation.
“The sheer magnitude of the moment was lost to no one,” observed Stephen. “He covered America during the civil rights years—at a point when he surely could have been killed for doing so.”
Booker died Dec. 10, 2017, at the age of 99, and a memorial service was held Jan. 29, 2018 at Washington National Cathedral, which featured a eulogy from Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon. In 1961 Booker had joined Lewis on the Freedom Rides through the deep South when African Americans pushed the barriers on segregated bathrooms and restaurants in bus and train stations.
As noted by Stephen, Booker was the first full-time black reporter for The Washington Post and the first black correspondent to cover the Vietnam War. For five decades, Booker served as the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for Jet and Ebony magazines. Working his beat during the Watergate scandal, Booker kept the focus on Frank Wills, the black security guard who discovered the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in June 1972 perpetrated by President Richard Nixon’s men. That’s just one of the many stories Booker covered in his remarkable career.
“Without question,” Stephen writes in the CJR, “we owe Booker and his peers a debt of gratitude for their service, both to our profession and this country.”
Stephen, an award-winning New York-based journalist, is currently working on a biography about the late New York radio DJ, Frankie Crocker, to be called “Chief Rocker.”