top of page

Robert 'Bob' Booker

04-14-1935 to 02-22-2024

Dr. Robert J. Booker was born, April 14, 1935, in Knoxville, Tennessee. He passed away peacefully at his home, February 22, 2024, surrounded by loved ones. Dr. Booker was the son of Willie Edward Booker and Lilian Allen Booker and was a lifelong member of Tabernacle Baptist Church.

He graduated from Austin High School in 1953 and served for three years in the U.S. Army in France and England as an information education specialist. In 1962, he received his degree from Knoxville College, where he was a two-term president of the student body. As a student leader, Dr. Booker helped initiate and conduct the sit-in movement in Knoxville to desegregate downtown lunch counters and movie theaters. During his freshman year, he was elected president of the campus chapter of the NAACP.

In 1967, Dr. Booker became the first Black person ever elected from Knoxville to the State Legislature. He served a total of seven years as administrative assistant to Mayor Kyle Testerman of Knoxville. Dr. Booker was appointed by Governor Lamar Alexander as the first Black person to serve on the Tennessee Civil Service Commission.

Dr. Booker was the executive director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center for seventeen years and was still working as a historian and archivist until his death. He was the founding president of the National Austin High School Alumni Association. From 1987 to 1991, Dr. Booker wrote a weekly column for the old Knoxville Journal, and since 2003, he has written a weekly column for the Knoxville News Sentinel. For nearly forty years, Dr. Booker conducted extensive research on the history of East Tennessee and authored numerous books.

Dr. Booker pledged Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity at Knoxville College. He was a member of the Distinguished Service Chapter, the fraternity’s highest honor.

During a formal ceremony, Saturday, February 10, 2024, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees upon the recommendation of the faculty and by authority granted to the President and Chancellor, conferred on Robert J. Booker the degree of Doctor of Humanities.

Dr. Booker is preceded in death by parents, Willie Edward Booker and Lilian Allen Booker; brother, George Booker; grandmother, Mattie Allen, special aunt, Bessie Towns; cousins, Linda Towns and Raymond Gibson.

Dr. Booker will be forever cherished by, brother, Percell (Janice) Booker; cousin, Mattie (Rev. Dr. Reginald Butler); nephews: Minister Percell (Angela) Booker, Jr., and Minister Jeff Booker; nieces: Yvette Booker, Minister Keshia Booker, Kim Booker, and Carla Jones; cousins: Marshall Harper, Tammy Harper, Ashley Gibson, Ryan Gibson, Natalia Gibson, Angela (Tracy) McEwen, Stephanie (Brian) Henderson, Cameron (Haley) Butler Davis, Zack (Ria) Winston, Brian Sellers, and Brittany Sellers; lifelong friend, Felicia Felder-Hoehne; special beloved friend, Rev. Renee Kesler and the Beck Cultural Exchange Center family, and many family members and friends too numerous to count.

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc will conduct their Omega Service Wednesday, February 28, 2024, 10:00 a.m. The family will receive friends, 10:30 a.m.- 12:00 noon, services to follow at Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, 2137 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave, Pastor Vincent M. Jones, Jr., eulogist, and Rev. Dr. Harold Middlebrook, officiant.

Interment, Thursday, February 29, 2024, at East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery, 2200 E Governor John Sevier Highway, Knoxville, TN, 10:00 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial contributions be made in honor of Dr. Robert J. Booker to the Beck Cultural Exchange Center or Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church.

Professional services entrusted to Jarnigan & Son Mortuary.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page