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The Man From Jet

Most everybody in Negro journalism in the 1940s knew of William O. Walker, publisher of the weekly Call and Post in Cleveland, Ohio. A severe man, Walker, who was a big-time Republican, had a penchant for advertising and marketing; the attempted literary arc of news stories meant nothing to him, but he never got in the way of his reporters pursuing big stories. "I decided to go to Cleveland and work for William O. Walker," says Booker.

Landing in Cleveland in 1945, he soon enough found himself. He wrote about poverty and racial dramas. There were marches for better housing, clashes between citizens and police. He won a Newspaper Guild journalism prize. The bylines stacked up. The white reporters at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Cleveland News -- the daily papers -- got to know his byline. Nodded to him over at the courthouse.

But he hated election season. That was when Walker put his staffers on stories trumpeting Republican candidates running for office. "Every year before an election," recalls Booker, "the paper would turn into a Republican propaganda sheet."

His little snits -- asides about the publisher, the paper's election coverage -- turned from whispers to clearly articulated and easy-to-hear pronouncements. He also joined a union movement.

He no longer felt working conditions were endurable, and he left. The veterans looked at him like he was a fool. They shook their heads. He thought of a job at the Plain Dealer. Then he shook himself into a realization: "They already had their one black reporter."

The streets of Cleveland seemed barren, raw. He got a job pumping gas.

Friends of Simeon Booker have long marveled at his calmness in the face of crisis. He was pumping gas all right, but he was also reading Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Robert Lowell and Zora Neale Hurston. He was believing all would somehow be okay. "I never became depressed," he says.

They were willing to take him back over at the Call and Post, he says, because a grievance had been filed on his behalf by the union -- saying Booker had been subjected to unbearable working conditions because of his union support. He walked right back into the newsroom, took his desk and started filing his stories. The veterans chuckled. And while they chuckled, he dreamed of Harvard. He applied for a Nieman Fellowship, the coveted yearlong sabbatical at Harvard University.

A letter arrived in the mail. Lovely stationery. He's held onto it all these years:


I beg to inform you that at a meeting of the President and Fellows of Harvard College held June 21, 1950 you were appointed Lucius W. Nieman Fellow in Journalism for the academic year 1950-1951.

Your obedient servant . . .

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