Medal of Freedom sought for Simeon Booker


Staff report

YOUNGSTOWN

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan and Ohio’s two U.S. senators are urging President Barack Obama to award Youngstown son and black journalist Simeon Booker Jr. with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by the president.

“Simeon Booker surely deserves this prestigious award. Throughout his long and illustrious career, Booker risked his own safety to bring groundbreaking coverage of the civil-rights movement and the Vietnam War to the American people, and in doing so forever changed our nation for the better. Simeon Booker has devoted his life’s work to breaking barriers and changing the hearts and minds of all those he touched through his writing. He is a true American hero,” Ryan, of Howland, D-13th, said in a news release.

The letter to President Obama was signed by U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, Maryland senators and 31 members of the House of Representatives.

Booker grew up on the city’s South Side and graduated from South High School in 1938. He entered Youngstown College, but left it to attend Virginia Union University after he discovered that because he is black, he couldn’t participate in any student social activities.

As a journalist, Booker uncovered atrocities blacks endured during the 1950s and ’60s in the Deep South, and he chronicled the battles of the 1960s American civil-rights movement.

He was at the funeral of Emmet Till, the 14-year-old boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955 after he was accused of flirting with a white woman.

From the beginning of his journalism career as a contributor to The Youngstown Vindicator, writing sports and other stories, he worked at black newspapers in Baltimore and Cleveland. He went on to become the first black reporter for the Washington Post.

He became a writer for Ebony and JET magazines, and it was his reporting for JET, along with photographs of Emmet Till in his coffin, that helped point out the need for justice and equality in the country. He became Washington Bureau Chief for JET, retiring in 2007. He has written a book with his wife, Carol, titled “Shocking the Conscience.”

Into the 1950s, other black students suffered the indignity of being denied “activity cards” at Youngstown College. In 2013, A Youngstown State University composition class pursued the stories of eight of those students. Those stories are compiled in a book of essays called “The Booker Project.”

In December 2013, YSU presented Booker with an honorary degree when he was commencement speaker.

“Simeon Booker is proof that great journalism can help change the course of history,” Brown said in the news release. “He stopped at nothing to cover key moments in the civil-rights movement, and his work helped advance the cause of civil rights in America. There is no honor more fitting for Booker than the Presidential Medal of Freedom.”

Portman called Booker a trailblazer in his field and a role model for generations to come.

“He devoted his life’s work to chronicling the history of the civil-rights movement in America and is very deserving of the Presidential Medal of Freedom,” Portman said in the release.

Ryan also has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to award Booker the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress.

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