Journalist Simeon Booker, who covered the civil rights movement for Ebony and Jet magazines and was the first full-time black reporter at The Washington Post, died Sunday in Maryland. He was 99.
His wife, Carol Booker, said he was recently hospitalized with pneumonia. Through his articles, people across the country were able to follow along with the civil rights movement, including the Montgomery bus boycott and the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Booker was with 14-year-old Emmett Till's mother when his mutilated body was returned from the Deep South to Chicago, and he published the photos from his funeral. It was a dangerous time to report on the story, he told The New York Times; one day, he went to Till's great uncle's house "and men in a car with guns forced us to stop." Booker, who often disguised himself as a minister or wore overalls to look like a sharecropper, also once had to hide in the back of a hearse to escape a mob.
When he joined the Post in the early 1950s, it wasn't easy, he said; Booker didn't fit in with his colleagues and "if I went out to a holdup, they thought I was one of the damn holdup men," he told the Post. "I couldn't get any cooperation." He departed for Jet and Ebony in 1954, eventually becoming the Washington bureau chief, but at the time was largely left out of news events because of his race. He ultimately had a long and successful career, covering 10 presidents, before he finally retired around his 90th birthday. He is survived by three children and several grandchildren.