In 1961, he was the only journalist with the first Freedom Riders, who protested transportation segregation in the South by busing from Atlanta to Birmingham. A 150-mile gantlet of mob violence peaked in Alabama with a firebombing and attacks by police officers with nightsticks and snarling dogs.
And in 1965, he joined the march from Selma to Montgomery that became the movement’s political and emotional climax, as televised attacks by Alabama state troopers shocked Americans and dramatically shifted public opinion against segregationists.
For the millions of readers of the weekly Jet and the monthly Ebony, he was more than a front-line reporter. He also covered Washington policies, interviewing presidents and members of Congress, and analyzed the tactics and strategies of civil rights movement leaders, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph and James Farmer.
Mr. Booker, who retired in 2007 after 65 years in journalism, had also chronicled the wider black experience — political and economic trends, the achievements of celebrities, the changing lives of ordinary people — for readers who often saw themselves reflected in the mainstream media in stereotypical ways.
“I always found myself opening Jet and looking first at what he had to say,” Dorothy Height, founder of the National Council of Negro Women, recalled at a retirement party for Mr. Booker at the National Press Club in Washington. “It was like getting the gospel according to Simeon.”
Simeon Saunders Booker Jr. was born in Baltimore on Aug. 27, 1918, the second of four children of Simeon Saunders Booker and Roberta Waring Booker. The family moved to Youngstown, Ohio, when Simeon was 5. He became interested in journalism through a family friend who owned The Baltimore Afro-American, and he joined the paper as a reporter in 1942 after earning a degree in English from Virginia Union University, a historically black school in Richmond.
In 1945, he returned to Ohio and joined another black newspaper, The Call & Post, in Cleveland. Besides his news reporting, he took graduate courses in journalism and radio at Cleveland College, and began writing for Ebony. On a cross-country car trip, he wrote profiles of black people, including a cowboy in Wyoming and a Mormon in Utah. In 1950, he won a Nieman fellowship to study for a year at Harvard.
His ensuing two years at The Washington Post were…