Simeon Booker richly merits Congressional Gold Medal


George Washington. Andrew Jackson. The Wright Brothers. Thomas Edison. Dr. Jonas Salk. Robert Frost. Bob Hope. Walt Disney. Frank Sinatra. Rosa Parks. Jackie Robinson. Neil Armstrong.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Those and other luminaries share a common and prestigious bond. All of them in their own way stand out in history as true American heroes. All of them also stand out as recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal, considered the most cherished and distinguished honor an individual can attain in public service and in the advancement of American ideals.

Thanks to the efforts of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, a native son of Youngstown – civil rights icon Simeon Booker – could soon be added to that roll call of America’s movers and shakers.

Eight-term Congressman Ryan is the primary sponsor of House Bill 812, introduced last month. The bill has been championed by at least 16 House co-sponsors, including one sole Republican, 14th District Rep. David Joyce of Russell Township in nearby Geauga County.

We urge all other representatives and senators in the august lawmaking body to rally around this deserved honor to Booker.

STRONG QUALIFICATIONS FOR HONOR

Booker more than meets the qualifications for the singular honor for his meritorious contributions that 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 Maryland. He also did so for the Youngstown Vindicator in his crisp stories about Negro baseball leagues in our community. He also documented the untold stories of achievements, struggles and conflicts of the black community in Cleveland for that city’s 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 in America’s 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.

Booker gave the nation a unique front-row seat to many 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 Dr. King in 1968.

DEAN OF BLACK PRESS IN US

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 congressional medal.

As Ryan put it, “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.”

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said, “Mr. Booker used his pen and pad to shed light on the plight of African-Americans and propelled the issues of civil rights, equality and justice to the world stage.”

In 2015, many will recall, The Vindicator played a leading role in a petition campaign aimed at forging broad-based support for Booker to receive the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. Unfortunately, that campaign fell a little short.

This year, the fate of Booker’s richly merited recognition rests with the 435 representatives and 100 senators in the Capitol. Though this bill has been deemed strongly partisan for its top-heavy list of Democrat co-sponsors, Booker’s achievements and contributions to journalistic integrity and civil rights progress clearly transcend political loyalties.

It would therefore behoove Republicans to solidly join in to give speedy and overwhelming approval of the richly deserved award to enable the 98-year-old Booker to fully savor the nation’s thanks and appreciation for his treasure trove of selfless public-service achievements.

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