Special Program: Honoring Rev. Bernice King and Simeon Booker

August 22, 2013
Location: Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater

Guests: Elder Bernice King and Simeon Booker

Civil Rights Icons Share Memories of Movement

By Sharon Shahid, online managing editor

WASHINGTON — At a lively, freewheeling, and often revealing discussion Aug. 22 at the Newseum, Elder Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, and award-winning journalist Simeon Booker, relived key moments of the civil rights movement and the historic March on Washington in 1963.

Joe Madison, a talk show host on SiriusXM satellite radio, moderated the sold-out program, "Covering Civil Rights: On the Front Lines," that was held in the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater.

King, chief executive officer of The King Center in Atlanta, received the National Council of Negro Women's 2013 Leadership Award at a special presentation. In accepting the award, King, a self-professed "socially shy" person, talked about women's roles in the civil rights movement.

"Fifty years ago, women did not have a prominent place in the '63 March on Washington," she said. "We thank God for 50 years later, because women are all over as it relates to this call for action. We are not on the periphery."

King was five months old when her father delivered the famous "I Have a Dream" speech and was five years old when he was assassinated. King described the personal impact the movement had on her and her family.

"He was connected to the words that he spoke. They were life, they were breath," King said about her father. Her mother, she said, embodied the struggle perhaps more than her father, because her mother knew she may have had to risk her life for the struggle.

King pointed to the "content of their character" reference in her father's speech as a guide to her own life.

"My goal in life is to be a leader of character, to be a leader of integrity," she said.

Booker, who turned 95 in August, covered the civil rights movement for 51 years as Washington bureau chief for Jet, a weekly newsmagazine of black-owned Johnson Publications. Booker likened his job as a black reporter covering the segregated South to that of a war correspondent.

"During those days, we were at war. Just walking on the street, you never knew what would happen," he said.

To cover the South, Booker said black reporters took extreme measures not to draw attention to themselves.

"That meant taking off your good shoes, suits, and all, and put on rags, and prepare to go without food," he explained. Sometimes, reporters had to change their dialect, Booker said. Booker also carried a change of eyeglasses, because blacks in the South wore eyeglasses with heavy frames, he explained.

Ernest Green, who in 1957 was one of nine black high school students in Little Rock, Ark., who was prevented from attending segregated Central High School by Arkansas's governor, became an impromptu addition to the program after Booker and Madison invited him on stage.

Green credited the 1955 photograph in Jet magazine of the mutilated body of black teenager Emmett Till for his involvement in the civil rights movement.

The picture "is what jarred my consciousness and made me believe that I could go to Central High School and get through that year," he said. "It was the most amazing thing that I had seen, the thing that really made me feel I had to be involved."

The significance of Jet in the civil rights movement was not lost on Green back then.

"If you didn't see it in Jet, it didn't exist," he said.

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