Bob Booker grew up in the “Bottom” area of East Knoxville, and graduated from Austin High School in 1953. Following a three year stint in the U.S. Army, stationed in France and England, Booker returned to his hometown to study at Knoxville College on the G.I. Bill, graduating in 1962 with a B.S. in Education. At Knoxville College, as a two-term president of the student body, Booker became involved in Knoxville’s Civil Rights movement, organizing sit-ins to advance desegregation.
In 1966 he was elected as Knoxville’s first black Tennessee State Representative. In the 1970’s he served as administrative assistant to Mayor Kyle Testerman, and on the Tennessee Civil Service Commission. Later he served on Knoxville City Council. For 11 years, he was the executive director for the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. We are also proud to say that he was an inaugural Board Member for the Knoxville History Project.
Booker is an authoritative author of Knoxville black history in book form, and has also written hundreds of newspaper columns. His publications include: Two Hundred Years of Black Culture in Knoxville, Tennessee 1791-1991; And There was Light!; The 120 Year History of Knoxville College; The Heat of a Red Summer; An Encyclopedia: The Experiences of Black People in Knoxville, Tennessee 1844-1974; and From the Bottom Up.
In 2017 the Knoxville History Project honored Bob Booker at our annual luncheon for his amazing research and work in Knoxville History. We held a Q&A session with Bob and Jack, which you can listen to below:
Highlight from the 2018 Luncheon: Podcast of the Q and A with KHP’s Jack Neely and Bob Booker: