The University of Tennessee College of Communication and Information presented civil rights activist, author, and historian Robert Booker with the 2020 CCI Diversity Award at the 12th annual CCI Experience Diversity Banquet, which was held Feb. 21 at Bearden Banquet Hall.
“The Power of Connecting” was the theme of this year’s banquet that featured dramatizations from members of the CCI Diversity Student Leaders Society on the topics of health insurance, prescription drugs, and immigration.
Booker served as the keynote speaker for the banquet and was introduced by 2009 CCI Diversity Award winner and close friend, Theotis Robinson Jr. The two were instrumental in Knoxville’s civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Booker, a native of Knoxville, graduated from Austin High School in 1953 and served in the U.S. Army in France and England as an Information Education Specialist.
He graduated from Knoxville College in 1962 with a B.S. in Education, majoring in English and French. While at Knoxville College, he was a two-term president of the student government, and he initiated and led the sit-in movement to desegregate lunch counters and movie theaters in downtown Knoxville.
He later taught French at Howard High School in Chattanooga and was the first black ever elected to the State Legislature from Knox County and served three terms. He was Administrative Assistant to the Mayor of Knoxville for seven years and served a temporary term on the Knoxville City Council.
For 17 years, Booker was Executive Director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. He served on the State Civil Service Commission, the Tennessee Committee on Humanities, and other boards. He was Market Development Manager for the Stroh Brewery for three years and was a researcher for the East Tennessee History Center.
He has published five local history books: Two Hundred Years of Black Culture in Knoxville, TN 1791-1991; And There Was Light! The 120 Year History of Knoxville College; The Heat of a Red Summer, the Story of the Knoxville Race Riot of 1919; An Encyclopedia: The Experiences of Black People in Knoxville, Tennessee 1844-1974; and From the Bottom Up, a biographical account of Booker’s experiences.
He wrote weekly columns for the Knoxville Journal for four years and has written weekly columns for the Knoxville News-Sentinel since 2003. He is the historian for Knoxville College and Tabernacle Baptist Church, and he is a member of American Legion Post #2.
Booker was elected to the Distinguished Service Chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. He is a member of the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the East Tennessee Historical Society and the Whitney M. Young Lifetime Achievement Award from the Knoxville Area Urban League. The Summit Hill Bridge is named in his honor.
The 2020 Experience Diversity Banquet had 190 in attendance, and the event raised $6,500 for DSLS. The student group will be traveling to Philadelphia for a networking and professional trip in March.
Music and dancing performances during the program were provided by the Smoky Mountain Flute Circle, vocalist Cal Robbinz, cellist Eric Aguilar, Salsa Knox, and Indigenous Vibes.
CCI DIVERSITY AWARD HISTORY: Previous CCI Diversity Award Winners include: Arnold Cohen (2019), Cylk Cozart (2018), Dr. Reverend Harold Middlebrook (2017), Lelan Statom (2016), Tom Kim (2015), Robin Wilhoit (2014), Madeline Rogero (2013), Avon W. Rollins, Sr. (2012), Jose Aponte (2011), Phyllis Y. Nichols (2010), and Theotis Robinson Jr. (2009).