(TriceEdneyWire.com)—Glaring down at us from the truck were five white men, armed to the teeth with shotguns…All five sprang from the truck and surrounded the car. ‘Get out,’ the huskiest one snapped. ‘Who are you n*****s and where are you going?’ I couldn’t think of anything but the truth so I told them, ‘We’re reporters down here to cover the [Emmett Till] murder trial. We took the wrong road and got lost.’ ‘You n*****s have no business around here,’ he sneered. ‘You’re just stirring up trouble.’ Directing us to keep our hands above our heads, they frisked both of us then searched the car… After what seemed like a lifetime, the ‘hunters’ were satisfied with having scared the hell out of us and having ended their search ordered us to ‘get the hell out” of there.’—Simeon Booker, Shocking the Conscience, A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement
For many decades, including during my years as Mayor of New Orleans, Jet magazine ran a column of happenings from around the country, called Ticker Tape. I was honored that my work often attracted the notice of the columnist, Washington Bureau Chief Simeon Booker. Memorably, it was through Booker’s column that my engagement to my wife, Michelle Miller, was announced to the nation.
Booker, by then, was a civil rights legend, having chronicled far more momentous events. We join the nation in mourning his passing this week at the age of 99.
In person, Simeon Booker appeared the epitome of a bookish wordsmith, with his heavy eyeglass frames and natty bowtie. But his mild-mannered looks belied his ferocity as a journalist and a civil rights warrior.
He gained fame as “the man from Jet” during his coverage of Emmett Till’s murder, funeral and his murderers’ trial. His description of Emmett’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, at the funeral became instantly iconic: “Her face wet with tears, she leaned over the body, just removed from a rubber bag in a Chicago funeral home, and cried out, ‘Darling, you have not died in vain. Your life has been sacrificed for something.’”