Benjamin Hooks

Benjamin Hooks


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Benjamin Hooks was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on 6th October, 1936. After military service in the Second World War, he attended De Paul University in Chicago.

Hooks worked as a lawyer in Memphis before being ordained as a Baptist minister. Hooks became active in the civil rights movement and participated in the campaign against Jim Crow laws, including sit-in protests against segregated lunch counters.

Hooks took a keen interest in the law and in 1965 became the first African American to be appointed as a Shelby County criminal court judge.

In 1972 President Richard Nixon appointed Hooks to the Federal Communications Commission. Five years later he became executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), a post he held until 1993.

Benjamin Hooks is currently adjunct professor for the Political Science department of the University of Memphis.

There are a lot of ways an oppressed people can rise. One way to rise is to study, to be smarter than your oppressor. The concept of rising against oppression through physical contact is stupid and self-defeating. It exalts brawn over brain. And the most enduring contributions made to civilization have not been made by brawn, they have been made by brain.


Hooks, Benjamin L.

The lawyer, minister, and civic leader Benjamin Lawson Hooks (also known as Benjamin Lawrence Hooks) was born in Memphis, Tennessee, where he attended public schools. Upon graduation from Booker T. Washington High School, Hooks pursued prelaw studies at Howard University, graduating in 1944. In 1948 he earned a juris doctor degree from De Paul University in Chicago and returned to Memphis to practice law, hoping to help end legal segregation.

In 1961 Hooks was appointed assistant public defender of Shelby County, Tennessee. Four years later, he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Shelby County Criminal Court (a position to which he was subsequently elected on the Republican ticket), becoming the first black criminal court judge in the state. In addition to practicing law, Hooks was active in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, serving as one of thirty-three members of the board of directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from its inception in 1957 until 1977. Hooks also cofounded and sat on the board of the Mutual Federal Savings and Loan Association from 1955 to 1969. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1956 and became pastor of the Middle Baptist Church in Memphis, serving the church in that capacity for 45 years. 1972, President Richard M. Nixon nominated Hooks to the Federal Communications Commission, where became the first African American member and actively sought to improve employment and ownership opportunities of African Americans and worked for more positive depictions of blacks in the electronic media.

Hooks became executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1977 at a difficult moment in the organization's history. Since the 1960s, militant organizations had begun to eclipse the prominence of the NAACP, which had come under increasing attack for being too conservative. Viewed by its critics as a stodgy bastion of the middle class, the NAACP suffered a decline in membership and financial contributions. When Hooks replaced Roy Wilkins, who had served as executive director for twenty-two years, the organization was $1 million in debt and controlled by a faction-ridden board of directors.

As executive director, Hooks sought to revitalize the organization's finances and image, becoming more involved in such national issues as the environment, national health insurance, welfare, urban blight, and the criminal justice system. He announced his intention to forge new alliances with corporations, foundations, and businesses, in addition to strengthening the NAACP's traditional alliances with liberals, the government, and labor groups. Hooks led the fight for home rule in Washington, D.C., and was instrumental in securing the passage of important legislation such as the Humphrey-Hawkins bill of 1978, which mandated a dramatic lowering of the unemployment rate through the use of federal fiscal and monetary policy. Under his direction the NAACP also encouraged the withdrawal of U.S. businesses from South Africa.

In 1980 Hooks became the first African American to address both the Republican and Democratic national conventions. As executive director, Hooks upheld the NAACP's tradition of focusing on political activity, but he also tried to steer the organization toward helping African Americans on an everyday level through programs such as the Urban Assistance Relief Fund, which he founded in the wake of the 1980 Miami riot. In conjunction with his position at the NAACP, Hooks also served as chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), a coalition of organizations devoted to civil rights issues.

In 1992 Hooks stepped down as executive director of the NAACP amid disputes between his supporters and those of board chairman William F. Gibson over the organization's leadership and direction. Many members expressed the view that the NAACP had continued to lose its effectiveness, although Hooks and his supporters maintained that it had upheld its heritage of civil rights activism. After leaving the NAACP, Hooks continued to serve as chairman of the LCCR until 1994, when he resumed his position as pastor of Middle Street Baptist Church on a full-time basis. In June 1992 Hooks was chosen to serve as the president of the board of directors of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

In 2000 the University of Memphis created the Benjamin Hooks Institute for the study of civil rights. The university also made Hooks' papers available online.


Little Known Black History Fact: Dr. Benjamin Hooks

A trailblazer of civil rights history, Dr. Benjamin Hooks left a remarkable legacy as the first African-American judge in the South since Reconstruction, the first black appointed to the board of the FCC, and the former executive director of the NAACP. The former Reverend of Greater Memphis Baptist Church and Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, Dr. Hooks had a reputation of humility and seeking out justice for blacks through moving leadership.

A World War II veteran, Dr. Hooks was disgusted by his duty of guarding Italian prisoners who were allowed to eat in places he could not because he was black. He became fed up with racial conditions of America. He once told U.S. News & World Report that his stomach and bladder was damaged because he spent years looking for a &lsquocolored only&rsquo restroom on the highway and eating cold sandwiches.

Seeking justice, Dr. Hooks obtained his law degree in Tennessee. His work includes litigation planning with Thurgood Marshall, particularly for Brown vs. the Board of Education. After unsuccessfully running for political office, his exposure granted him the position of the first black criminal court judge in Tennessee history. He took notice of the injustices in mass media so once he was appointed a commissioner of the F.C.C. by President Nixon, he addressed the lack of minorities in media ownership, and raised the numbers. A few years later, Dr. Hooks was appointed to Executive Director of the NAACP, and revitalized its membership by several thousand new members.

No stranger to racial violence, Dr. Hooks and his family were among the targets in a wave of bombings against civil rights leaders. He used his experiences as a teaching tool to garner the help of President George H. W. Bush against racial violence.

In his honor, the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change was established at the University of Memphis, and in 2007, Dr. Hooks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Dr. Benjamin Hooks Died Thursday, April 15, 2010. He was 85 years old. His memory lies in the Civil Rights Walk of Fame.


People, Locations, Episodes

*Benjamin Hooks was born on this date in 1925. He was a Black activist, lawyer and minister.

Benjamin Lawson Hooks was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the fifth of seven children of Robert B. Hooks and Bessie White Hooks. His father was a photographer and owned a photography studio with his brother Henry known at the time as Hooks Brothers. Still, he recalls that he had to wear hand-me-down clothes and that his mother had to be careful to make the dollars stretch to feed and care for the family. His paternal grandmother, Julia Britton Hooks graduated from Berea College in Kentucky in 1874, the second American black woman to graduate from the college. She played piano publicly at age five, and at age 18 joined Berea’s faculty, teaching instrumental music. Her sister, Dr. Mary E. Britton, also attended Berea, and became a physician in Lexington, Kentucky.

In his youth, he had felt called to the Christian ministry. Hooks enrolled in LeMoyne-Owen College, in Memphis, graduating in 1944 from Howard University. From there he joined the Army and had the job of guarding Italian prisoners of war. He found it humiliating that the prisoners were allowed to eat in restaurants from which he was barred. He left the Army with the rank of staff sergeant. After the war he enrolled at the DePaul University College of Law. He graduated from DePaul in 1948 with his J.D. (law) degree. Upon graduation Hooks immediately returned to his native Memphis.

By 1949 Hooks had earned a local reputation as one of the few black lawyers in Memphis. At the Shelby County fair, he met a 24-year-old science teacher by the name of Frances Dancy. They began to date, and were married in Memphis in 1952. In 1954, only days before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, he appeared on Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) sponsored roundtable, along with Thurgood Marshall, and other black Southern attorneys to formulate possible litigation strategies.

Hooks was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1956 and began to preach regularly at the Greater Middle Baptist Church in Memphis, while continuing his law practice. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (then known as Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration) along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He also became a pioneer in restaurant sit-ins and other boycotts of consumer items and services. Hooks ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature in 1954 and for juvenile court judge in 1959 and 1963. In 1965, Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement appointed him to fill a vacancy in the Shelby County criminal court the first black criminal court judge in Tennessee history. His temporary appointment to the bench expired in 1966 but he campaigned for, and won election to a full term in the same judicial office.

By the late 1960s twice a month he flew to Detroit to preach at the Greater New Mount Moriah Baptist Church. He also continued to work with the NAACP in civil rights protests and marches. His wife Frances became his assistant, secretary, advisor, and traveling companion, even though it meant sacrificing her own career. Hooks produced local television shows in Memphis while being a strong supporter of Republican political candidates. In 1972, President Richard Nixon appointed Hooks to be one of the five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Senate confirmed the nomination, and as a member of the FCC, Hooks addressed the lack of minority ownership of television and radio stations, the minority employment statistics for the broadcasting industry, and the image of blacks in the mass media. Hooks completed his five-year term on the board of commissioners in 1978, but he continued to work for black involvement in the entertainment industry.

On November 6, 1976, the 64-member board of directors of the NAACP elected Hooks executive director of the organization. In the late 1970s the membership had declined from a high of about 500,000 to only about 200,000. Hooks was determined to add to the enrollment and to raise money for the organization severely depleted treasury, without changing the NAACP’s goals or mandates. In his early years at the NAACP, Hooks had some bitter arguments with Margaret Bush Wilson, chairwoman of the NAACP’s board of directors.

In 1980, Hooks explained why the NAACP was against using violence to obtain civil rights: “There are a lot of ways an oppressed people can rise. One way to rise is to study, to be smarter than your oppressor. The concept of rising against oppression through physical contact is stupid and self-defeating. It exalts brawn over brain. And the most enduring contributions made to civilization have not been made by brawn they have been made by brain.”

Early in 1990 Hooks and his family were among the targets in a wave of bombings against civil rights leaders. Hooks was also a staunch advocate of self-help among the black community, urging wealthy and middle-class blacks to give time and resources to those less fortunate. “It’s time today. to bring it out of the closet: No longer can we proffer polite, explicable, reasons why Black America cannot do more for itself,” he told the 1990 NAACP convention delegates. “I’m calling for a moratorium on excuses. I challenge black America today—all of us—to set aside our alibis.”

By 1991 some younger members of the NAACP thought that Hooks had lost touch with black America and ought to resign. Hooks and his wife handled the NAACP’s business and helped to plan for its future for more than 15 years. In February 1992, at the age of 67, he announced his resignation from the post, calling it “a killing job,” according to the Detroit Free Press.

He served as a distinguished adjunct professor for the Political Science department of the University of Memphis and in 1996, the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change was established at the University of Memphis. The Institute works to advance understanding of the legacy of the American Civil Rights Movement – and of other movements for social justice – through teaching, research and community programs that emphasize social movements, race relations, strong communities, public education, effective public participation, and social and economic justice. Hooks’ professional memberships included, American Bar Association, National Bar Association, Tennessee Bar Association, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Tennessee Council on Human Relations. In 1986, Hooks was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1988, Hooks received an honorary doctorate at Central Connecticut State University. Other awards for Hooks were the Benjamin L. Hooks Distinguished Service Award, which is awarded to persons for efforts in implementing policies and programs that promote equal opportunity through the NAACP.

In 2007, Hooks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. In 2008, he was inducted in the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Also the Memphis Library's main Branch is named in his honor. Benjamin Hooks died on April 15, 2010 in Memphis.


President George W Bush awarded Hooks the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. Memphis University created the Benjamin L Hooks Institute for Social Change in 1996. In 1986, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal. Hooks received numerous other awards as well as over 25 honorary degrees.

Benjamin Hooks met schoolteacher Frances Dancy in 1949 and 1952 they got married. He died in Memphis, Tennessee on the 15 April 2010.


[News Clip: Benjamin Hooks]

B-roll video footage from the KXAS-TV/NBC station in Fort Worth, Texas, to accompany a news story.

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Benjamin L. Hooks, Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 85

Benjamin L. Hooks, who for 15 years led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as it struggled to remain an effective champion of minorities in an era of rising political conservatism, died Thursday at his home in Memphis. He was 85.

Leila McDowell, a spokeswoman for the N.A.A.C.P., said the cause was heart failure.

“Black Americans are not defeated,” Mr. Hooks told Ebony magazine soon after he became the association’s executive director in 1977. “The civil rights movement is not dead.

“If anyone thinks that we are going to stop agitating, they had better think again. If anyone thinks that we are going to stop litigating, they had better close the courts. If anyone thinks that we are not going to demonstrate and protest, they had better roll up the sidewalks.”

Yet under his leadership the N.A.A.C.P. faced a growing white backlash against school busing and affirmative action programs intended to redress past discrimination. And it repeatedly tangled with the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush to preserve the gains that minorities had made in the 1960s and ’70s. When Mr. Bush selected a conservative black federal judge, Clarence Thomas, to serve on the Supreme Court, the N.A.A.C.P. ultimately opposed the nomination.

“I’ve had the misfortune of serving eight years under Reagan and three under Bush,” Mr. Hooks said in 1992, the year he stepped down as executive director. “It makes a great deal of difference about your expectations. We’ve had to get rid of a lot of programs we had hoped for, so we could fight to save what we already had.”.


Benjamin L. Hooks, Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 85

Benjamin L. Hooks, who for 15 years led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as it struggled to remain an effective champion of minorities in an era of rising political conservatism, died Thursday at his home in Memphis. He was 85.

Leila McDowell, a spokeswoman for the N.A.A.C.P., said the cause was heart failure.

“Black Americans are not defeated,” Mr. Hooks told Ebony magazine soon after he became the association’s executive director in 1977. “The civil rights movement is not dead.

“If anyone thinks that we are going to stop agitating, they had better think again. If anyone thinks that we are going to stop litigating, they had better close the courts. If anyone thinks that we are not going to demonstrate and protest, they had better roll up the sidewalks.”

Yet under his leadership the N.A.A.C.P. faced a growing white backlash against school busing and affirmative action programs intended to redress past discrimination. And it repeatedly tangled with the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush to preserve the gains that minorities had made in the 1960s and ’70s. When Mr. Bush selected a conservative black federal judge, Clarence Thomas, to serve on the Supreme Court, the N.A.A.C.P. ultimately opposed the nomination.

“I’ve had the misfortune of serving eight years under Reagan and three under Bush,” Mr. Hooks said in 1992, the year he stepped down as executive director. “It makes a great deal of difference about your expectations. We’ve had to get rid of a lot of programs we had hoped for, so we could fight to save what we already had.”

Mr. Hooks shifted much of the N.A.A.C.P.’s focus to increasing educational and job opportunities for blacks as recession gave way to economic recovery in the Reagan years. But the association had been weakened under the weight of declining membership and shaky finances.

It had also developed an image problem, as that of an outmoded and increasingly irrelevant civil rights group. For some who had watched the N.A.A.C.P. over the years, Mr. Hooks came to symbolize an older generation of leaders who had marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and who had fought for the passage of landmark civil rights legislation but who had become unwilling or unable to adapt to modern times and changed political circumstances.

Mr. Hooks rejected that notion, maintaining that he had succeeded in advancing a just cause, to improve the lot of African-Americans. “I have fought the good fight,” he said in his valedictory to the N.A.A.C.P. in 1992. “I have kept the faith.”

Mr. Hooks had a varied career. He was a lawyer, a businessman (he owned fried chicken franchises in Memphis that ultimately failed) and a Baptist minister, heading two separate churches. He was also a gifted orator, mixing quotations from Shakespeare and Keats with the cadence and idioms of the Mississippi Delta.

“There is a beauty in it and a power in it,” Mr. Hooks once said of black preachers’ speaking style.

Mr. Hooks was the first black to be appointed to the criminal court bench in his native Tennessee, and he was the first African-American to be named to the five-member Federal Communications Commission.

“Most people do one or two things in their lifetimes,” Julian Bond, a former chairman of the N.A.A.C.P., said of Mr. Hooks. “He’s just done an awful lot.”

Benjamin Lawson Hooks was born Jan. 31, 1925, in Memphis, the fifth of seven children of Robert and Bessie Hooks. His father’s photography business gave the family a stable middle-class grounding, allowing Mr. Hooks to attend LeMoyne College in Memphis. But he knew well the indignities blacks suffered in the segregated South.

“I wish I could tell you every time I was on the highway and couldn’t use a restroom” because it was reserved for whites, he once told U.S. News & World Report. “My bladder is messed up because of that.”

After serving three years in the Army during World War II and rising to staff sergeant, Mr. Hooks attended law school at DePaul University, graduating in 1948.

In 1951, while working as a lawyer with his own practice in Memphis, he wed Frances Dancy, a high-spirited woman whose friends, she said, could not believe she would marry such a straight arrow. Mr. Hooks made her agree that if they went to a dance one night, the next date had to include a civic meeting or a church social.

An ordained Baptist minister, Mr. Hooks was long the resident minister at two churches, one in Detroit and the other in Memphis. He insisted on preaching at some church — his own or someone else’s — every Sunday, regardless of what job he held.

“My life was built around being in those pulpits on Sunday,” Mr. Hooks said.

In the 1950s, while practicing law, he entered state politics, running unsuccessfully for the Tennessee legislature and for a judgeship on Juvenile Court. In 1965 Gov. Frank G. Clement appointed him to fill a vacancy in the Shelby County Criminal Court, making him the first black criminal court judge in Tennessee history. He won election to a full term the next year.

Mr. Hooks also became involved in the civil rights movement, participating in sit-ins, boycotts and other demonstrations sponsored by the N.A.A.C.P. Dr. King recruited him to serve on the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the driving force of the civil rights movement.

President Richard M. Nixon appointed Mr. Hooks, a Nixon supporter, to the Federal Communications Commission in 1972. He set out to expand opportunities for members of minorities to obtain broadcast licenses and persuaded the Small Business Administration to lift restrictions on loans to broadcast and news businesses. He also expanded a program to grant tax breaks to those who sold radio or television stations to members of minorities.

At the same time, he sided with the corporate giant AT&T in its fight to shut out upstart companies like MCI from offering long-distance telephone services.

When Jimmy Carter won the presidency in 1976, Mr. Hooks was so widely thought to be in line to head the F.C.C. that some commissioners began calling him Mr. Chairman. But he upended expectations when, in 1977, he accepted an offer by the N.A.A.C.P. board to take over the helm of the association from an ailing Roy Wilkins, an esteemed figure in the civil rights movement.

Mr. Hooks steered the association through some of its most difficult years. Twelve of his 15 years as executive director coincided with the Reagan and first Bush administrations, which the N.A.A.C.P. criticized as hostile to the agendas of civil rights groups.

The Reagan administration cut legal services to the poor and supported legislation banning the use of federal financing in support of school busing for the express purpose of promoting integration. And in court cases, both administrations sought to toughen standards by which to prove racial discrimination in employment.

Mr. Hooks also had to deal with an increasingly conservative political climate of growing opposition to spending on social programs. Many whites, too, were becoming openly antagonistic toward N.A.A.C.P. goals like school busing to achieve racial balance and preference programs for blacks in employment and college admissions.

During his tenure, Mr. Hooks instituted several programs to appeal to younger blacks, including the Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, known as Act-So, an annual talent competition that involves more than 150,000 teenagers throughout the country.


[News Clip: Benjamin Hooks]

Video footage from the KXAS-TV/NBC station in Fort Worth, Texas, to accompany a news story.

Physical Description

1 videocassette (Umatic) (2 min., 1 sec.) : sd., col. 3/4 in.

Creation Information

Context

This video is part of the collection entitled: KXAS-NBC 5 News Collection and was provided by the UNT Libraries Special Collections to The Portal to Texas History, a digital repository hosted by the UNT Libraries. More information about this video can be viewed below.

People and organizations associated with either the creation of this video or its content.

Producer

Reporter

Publisher

Named Persons

People who are significant in some way to the content of this video. Additional names may appear in Subjects below.

Rights Holder

Audiences

Check out our Resources for Educators Site! We've identified this video as a primary source within our collections. Researchers, educators, and students may find this video useful in their work.

Provided By

UNT Libraries Special Collections

The Special Collections Department collects and preserves rare and unique materials including rare books, oral histories, university archives, historical manuscripts, maps, microfilm, photographs, art and artifacts. The department is located in UNT's Willis Library in the fourth floor Reading Room.


Watch the video: Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks: NAACP Centennial Convention


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