Luther Malachi Booker, coach and teacher, second child of Yale and Trula (Pickens) Booker, was born in Houston, Texas, on August 19, 1928. He spent much of his early childhood in rural San Jacinto and Polk counties, but eventually returned to Houston, where he graduated from Phillis Wheatley High School in 1945. After graduation, he served in the United States Army from 1946 to 1951 and attained the rank of sergeant first class. He later earned his bachelor of science and master of science degrees from Prairie View A&M University and served as a faculty member in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) for more than thirty years.
Booker began his high school coaching career in 1957 as an assistant at Booker T. Washington High School in HISD. He enjoyed success there, winning three state championships as head coach of the swim team, one state championship as an assistant track and field coach, and one state co-championship as an assistant football coach. In 1967 he was named Coach of the Year by the Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL). The following year, Booker T. Washington High School left the PVIL and began competing in the recently integrated University Interscholastic League (UIL). As the defensive coordinator during the 1968 football season, Coach Booker helped lead the Booker T. Washington Eagles to the UIL Class 4A state semifinals. At that time, it was the best finish by any predominantly-black school in the UIL.
After one year as the defensive coordinator at Prairie View A&M University and one year as an assistant at Bellaire High School in HISD, Booker obtained his first head coaching position at Jack Yates High School in HISD. He began there in 1971 and retired after the 1988 football season. His record over those eighteen seasons was 168 wins, 37 losses, and 6 ties. At the time of his retirement, he had more victories at a single Class 5A school than any other coach in Texas high school football. He took his team to the state playoffs fourteen times during the eighteen years with the last twelve being consecutive. The Lions were also district champions thirteen times and had a record of forty-eight consecutive victories in district play. His playoff record was twenty-one wins and thirteen losses, with a state championship, a state final finish, and a state semi-finalist finish.
Booker was named Coach of the Decade by the Houston Chronicle in 5A football for the 1980s. From 1980 to 1988 his record was 103 wins, 14 losses, and 1 tie. His 1985 team is often considered one of the best in the history of Texas high school football. On the way to a perfect 16-0 season, they recorded eight shutouts, outscored their opponents nearly ten to one, and set numerous single-season records, including most points scored. Following a shutout victory over perennial powerhouse Odessa Permian in the state final, they became the first Class 5A team to win sixteen games in a single season, the first HISD high school to claim a state title in football since 1953, and were voted the “Team of the Decade” in 5A football by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine and the Houston Chronicle. Eventually, five players from the 1985 roster went on to play in the National Football League.
In 1990 Booker came out of retirement to help reestablish the football program at Prairie View A&M, which had ceased operations due to financial and managerial difficulties. He resigned before coaching a single game but successfully recruited enough players for his replacement, Ronald Beard, to field a legitimate team.
Coach Booker was honored with Coach of the Year awards in 1981, 1983, 1985, and 1988 from various organizations. He was also inducted into the Greater Houston Football Coaches Association Hall of Honor (charter member, 1992), the Houston Coaches Association Hall of Honor (1992), the Prairie View A&M University Sports Hall of Fame (1994), and the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor (2009). In 2005 HISD established the Fiesta Booker-Bryant Memorial Classic, an annual rivalry game between Jack Yates High School and Booker T. Washington High School.
As the head football coach at Jack Yates High School in HISD, Booker promoted both academic and athletic excellence and espoused a philosophy of building character in students through athletics and the lessons learned from both success and defeat. (He enforced a “no pass/no play” policy before it was made mandatory in 1984.) The program he established at Jack Yates was subsequently emulated by other coaches.
He was married to Clairene Carmella Jones, and they had three children—Annette, Guy, and Trula. Although Coach Booker became ill in the late 1980s, he did not let anyone know how sick he really was. Booker died in Houston on July 25, 1994, and is buried in the Houston National Cemetery.