Join campaign to award Presidential Medal of Freedom to Simeon Booker
Youngstown son and prominent national journalist Simeon Booker has never been big on self-glory. In fact, he once told a reporter for The Washington Post chronicling his life achievements, “I don’t need no damn honoring.”
Despite such protestations, by all accounts, Booker is an honorable man and richly deserves the highest of civilian honors this nation can bestow. That’s why The Vindicator has taken a lead role in urging President Barack Obama to recognize the spry 97-year-old in 2016 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Booker more than meets the qualifications for the singular honor for his meritorious contributions and his tireless endeavors that collectively made a significant impact on narrowing the racial divide in this nation.
Booker is indeed an honorable man for his commitment to the art of journalistic excellence. He did so from his early years as a boy growing up in Youngstown with his polished, well written and well respected dispatches to the Baltimore Afro-American, a prominent black newspaper published in his birthplace in Maryland. He also did so for the Youngstown Vindicator in his crisp stories about the Negro baseball leagues in our community. In his early years as a newspaperman, he also documented the untold stories of achievements, struggles and conflicts of the black community in Cleveland for that city’s African-American newspaper, The Call and Post. In short, Booker made it a lifetime passion to record in sterling prose that black lives matter.
That passion led him to bigger and broader horizons, including stints at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow and to The Washington Post as its first African-American reporter in 1952. But it was his migration to Jet magazine in Chicago two years later that would forever clinch for Booker a prominent position of honor on the short list of movers and shakers in the American civil-rights odyssey.
There he would begin a 50-year-plus career as a talented journalist and fearless watchdog over the evolution of black America. It began shortly after his arrival via his dogged coverage of the vicious lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till by a mob of white racists over allegations that the teen had whistled at a white woman. Booker’s stark prose on the pages of Jet, accompanied with chilling photographs of Till’s disfigured face in his coffin, served as a lightning rod for the modern civil-rights movement.
From the sturdy foundation of the largest African-American news publication in the United States, Booker gave the nation a unique front-row seat to many of the other turning points in race relations, including the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School, the Freedom Riders in 1961 and the assassination of American civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. He monitored the presidential administrations of 10 chief executives, including the rise of a young black Chicagoan who would rise to become the country’s commander in chief.
All of these and other accomplishments solidify his reputation as the dean of America’s black press. They should also seal the deal for his most deserved receipt of the presidential medal. But don’t simply take our word for it. Consider the words of those in Congress who have nominated him:
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, said, “Simeon Booker is proof that great journalism can help change the course of history,”
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, said, “By overcoming adversity, Simeon Booker became not only a trailblazer in his field, but also 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.”
Such bipartisan unity among Brown, Portman and others should carry considerable weight. So, too, should a public outpouring of support for Booker’s rightful honor. Toward that end, The Vindicator has made it easy for supporters of this worthy campaign to make a difference. As Editor Todd Franko explained in his Sunday column about Booker, The Vindicator has launched a petition drive to better reach White House decision-makers. The petition and information about it can be found on Vindy.com, on Facebook at Simeon Booker Medal of Freedom and on Twitter at @sbookermedal.
Though Booker has accumulated a wide array of impressive awards, none rises to the stature of achievement that this Youngstown-raised champion of American journalism and of constructive social change so richly deserves. That is why we strongly urge President Obama to place Booker prominently in the next round of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients.