Rev. Benjamin Hooks
Atty. Benjamin Hooks
Civil Rights Leader Benjamin Hooks
Benjamin L. Hooks, The Passing of a Legend
IN REMEMBRANCE OF BENJAMIN “BEN” HOOKS, THE LOS ANGELES SENTINEL REREUNS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE WITH QUOTES FROM HIS FRIENDS AND SUPPORTERS.
President Barack Obama: “Our national life is richer for the time Dr. Hooks spent on this Earth. And our union is more perfect for the way he spent it: giving a voice to the voiceless. Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Frances; his daughter, Patricia Gray; and all who knew Dr. Hooks through his extraordinary good works.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus: “On behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Benjamin Hooks, a civil rights leader, minister, and attorney who was forever a champion of minorities and the poor. “A true public servant, Dr. Hooks devoted his life to empowering communities of color. As the executive director of the NAACP from 1977 to 1992, Dr. Hooks increased NAACP membership by several hundred thousand people and raised critical funds for the Association. Dr. Hooks was also instrumental in establishing a program in which 200 corporations agreed to participate in economic development projects in Black communities. In 1986, the NAACP recognized Dr. Hooks for his lifetime commitment to civil rights by awarding him the Spingarn Award, the NAACP’s highest honor. “Clearly, Dr. Hooks was a trailblazer. He was the first African American commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, a board member of the SCLC, and the first African American criminal court judge in Tennessee history.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Hooks family as we mourn the loss of Dr. Hooks, a constant advocate for opportunity, equality, and personal responsibility. As a rightful recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Dr. Hooks will be remembered as a man who ceaselessly demanded that America live up to its founding principles of justice, equity, and liberty. He will truly be missed.
“In his memory it is up to all of us to carry the baton of freedom and justice. America is a better nation because of Dr. Hooks and we all have a responsibility to keep his legacy alive.”
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson: “He is a legend. Ben Hooks was one of the tallest trees in the forest of social justice and a key to transforming our nation….His civil rights work preceded Dr. King’s work and continued long after Dr. King’s death. This generation is now going to cross bridges pushed by tailwind. Ben had to face walls and push them with a headwind. Ben had to bring down those walls to make those bridges possible. He was blessed with a long life of service. I feel a tremendous sense of loss.”
Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League said: “The National Urban League joins the nation in mourning the passing of civil rights pioneer, Benjamin Hooks. A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, Dr. Hooks was one of the nation’s most revered champions of racial reconciliation. He served as Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP for 15 years, from 1977-1992. During his tenure, he revived the organization’s influence, and worked closely with National Urban League past presidents Vernon E. Jordon, Jr., and John E. Jacob to form a cooperative partnership that has grown and strengthened over the years.” In the words of current NAACP President and CEO, Benjamin Todd Jealous, Dr. Hooks “was simply the greatest living person to have served as Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP.
Dr. Benjamin Hooks was a giant of the civil rights movement. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife of nearly 60 years, Frances, and their daughter, Patricia Gray.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “Dr. Benjamin Hooks helped shape the modern-day civil rights movement through his leadership of the NAACP, elevating and energizing the storied organization. With great patriotism, he led the day-to-day efforts to root out discrimination and injustice and worked on behalf of equality and opportunity for all Americans for more than half of a century.”
Reverend, Attorney, Judge, F.C.C. Commissioner, Civil Rights Icon
For 15 years, Benjamin “Ben” Hooks led the NAACP through some turbulent times and reportedly said, “If anyone thinks that we are not going to demonstrate and protest, they had better roll up the sidewalks.” He was truly a man on a mission and he led by example. Hooks’ life and career were shaped in the mold of a true country preacher for even though he was a man of many talents and avocations, his values and pursuit of civil rights were rooted in the church; he was no stranger to racism, discrimination and second-class citizenship in a first class world.
Hooks was born on January 31, 1925 in Memphis, Tennessee, to Robert and Bessie Hooks. His father was a photographer and his mother, a homemaker. He was the fifth of seven children and though his family was not wealthy, they were well-off relative to the Black standards of the day. His family stressed, by example, the need for a good education and young Hooks did not disappoint them. Coming from a religious family, the church seemed his natural calling.
Contrary to his calling, he pursued law as a means of trying to change society, for as a young man, he often had to swallow the bitter pill of racism. He enrolled in LeMoyne College in Tennessee, only to be interrupted bythe obligation of serving his country in World War II. Though he attained the rank of sergeant, the bitter pill was still dominant while he was in the service and it strengthened his resolve to pursue a legal career after the war. One of his most humiliating experiences in the service was having to guard Caucasian prisoners of war who were allowed privileges that he was denied.
After the war, his home state was such a bedrock of bigotry that he was forced to continue his education at Howard University. Then he went on to DePaul University in Chicago where he received his law degree in 1948 and returned to Memphis to practice law. Establishing a law office as a Black attorney was an uphill battle but Hooks was not deterred; he was one of the few Black attorneys in Memphis. Some of the setbacks he experienced came from within the legal community that he was fighting to change.
In 1952, he met and married a teacher, Frances Dancy. Just about that time, the Civil Rights Movement was coming into the nation’s consciousness and Hooks was drawn into its ministerial vortex. As an ordained Baptist minister, he began to participate in boycotts and sit-ins. His work in civil rights did not go unnoticed and in 1965 he was appointed the first Black criminal court judge in Shelby County, Tennessee, after some unsuccessful bids for statewide office. He also delved into business becoming the vice president of Memphis Savings and Loan, and the producer/host of television programs.
By then, he was a judge, an attorney, a minister, a businessman, a civil rights advocate and a prolific public speaker. As these activities began to dominate his time, his wife became his partner in his work and was his constant traveling companion.
With his eye on the national scene, Hooks and his wife moved to Washington, D.C. in 1972, where he became immediately immersed in politics. Though he was involved in grassroots political activities, Hooks aligned himself with the Republican ticket. As a result, he was appointed as the first Black member of the Federal Communications Commission by a conservative president, Richard Nixon. There he championed minority involvement in broadcasting and the media that changed the course of television and radio ownership forever. He had earned a reputation as a spellbinding speaker and was always on the go to his next speaking engagement. In 1977, he was the guest speaker at the Brotherhood Crusade’s Annual Pioneers Dinner, “A Testimonial to Black Religious Leadership,” and the following year, he did the same for the San Fernando Valley NAACP’s “Drum Major Award” dinner.
Hooks’ next stop was his appointment as the executive director of the NAACP in 1978. He went about the organization’s business with a passion, overseeing affirmative action, federal aid to cities, foreign relations with oppressive regimes like South Africa and domestic legal issues and public policies.
Hooks retired from the NAACP in 1992, but he kept abreast in its activities. He and his wife, Frances, then donated $56,000 to the NAACP for its scholarship fund. According to a news report, he felt, “A young Black man can’t understand what it means to have something he’s never been denied.” That says a lot about today’s young generation.