- NAME: Benjamin Hooks
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Lawyer, Judge, Minister
- BIRTH DATE: January 31, 1925
- DEATH DATE: April 15, 2010
- Did You Know?: Benjamin Hooks remained in his prominent role as head of the NAACP, even while civil rights leaders were being targeted and threatened with bombs in 1989 and 1990.
- Did You Know?: Benjamin Hooks was Tennessee's first African-American criminal judge, as well as the first African-American commissioner of the FCC.
- EDUCATION: Le Moyne College, Howard University, DePaul University
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Memphis, Tennessee
- PLACE OF DEATH: Memphis, Tennessee
- Full Name: Benjamin Lawson Hooks
- AKA: Benjamin L. Hooks
- AKA: Benjamin Hooks
Best Known For
In his career, Benjamin Hooks worked as a lawyer, judge and minister. He was also a civil rights activist who later served as executive director of the NAACP.
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Born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1925, Benjamin Hooks became a lawyer and minister who was active in the Civil Rights Movement. He was Tennessee's first African-American criminal judge, as well as the first African-American commissioner of the FCC. From 1977 until 1993, Hooks headed the NAACP. He received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. In 2010, at the age of 85, he died in Memphis.
"We felt like no matter how non-violent you were, unless you had a law on the books or a decree by a court, that the same restaurant that could open up its door to a black person on Monday could close it on Tuesday if there were no law demanding it be kept open."
"I can't tell you how I feel about the question, 'Has integration worked?' All these intellectual superegoists sit around trying to pinpoint where it hasn't. But I have to begin at the fundamental issue that I can drive from Houston to my home in Memphis and stop for a hamburger."
"Black men who have succeeded have an obligation to serve as role models for young men entrapped by a vicious cycle of poverty, despair and hopelessness."
"Let's fight on until justice runs down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream. Let's fight on until there is no downsizing, until there is no glass ceiling. Let's fight on until God shall gather the four winds of heaven; until the angel shall plant one foot on the sea and the other on dry land and declare that the time that has been will be no more. Fight on, until the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Fight on, until justice, righteousness, hopes, equality and opportunity is the birthright of all Americans."
"So when I came out of the Army, I had already decided I wanted to be a part of breaking down segregation. Because I felt it had to be broken down. I felt it would be broken. So I consciously devoted my life to that."
"Black people in this country have a story to tell. If this story is told, this will be a better place to live."
"Most people do one or two things in their lifetimes. [Benjamin Hooks has] just done an awful lot."
Benjamin Lawson Hooks was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 31, 1925. With a grandmother who was the second African-American woman to get a college degree in the United States, he grew up understanding the importance of education. After graduating from his segregated high school, Benjamin Hooks attended LeMoyne College, then transferred to Howard University.
During World War II, Hooks left his studies behind to join the U.S. Army. While working as a guard, he saw that his Italian prisoners were able to eat in restaurants that refused to admit black service members, a fact that made him determined to work for desegregation. After being discharged, he went to DePaul University's law school in Chicago, graduating in 1948.
Hooks set up shop as a lawyer in his hometown of Memphis, where members of the legal establishment treated him with disdain. Still determined to fight against segregation, he also got involved with sit-ins and boycotts. He became a Baptist minister in 1956, and soon joined the executive board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization led by Martin Luther King Jr.
After becoming a public defender for Tennessee's Shelby County in 1961, Hooks represented defendants in civil rights cases. The work meant he had to face angry opponents of the Civil Rights Movement; Hooks and other civil rights lawyers were driven out of one town by shotgun-wielding sheriffs.
In 1965, the changes the Civil Rights Movement had wrought led to a big shift in Hooks's own life: He was appointed to be a criminal judge, a first for an African American in Tennessee. He was elected for a full judicial term the next year. During this time, he continued to minister at two churches, one in Memphis, the other in Detroit.
Hooks left the bench in 1968 to be the president of Mahalia Jackson Chicken Systems, a company that was owned and operated by African Americans. Unfortunately, the business went under a few years later. He was then selected by President Richard Nixon to join the Federal Communications Commission in 1972, making him the first African-American commissioner. While with the FCC, Hooks supported initiatives that helped build minority ownership of television and radio stations.
Hooks left the FCC in order to become executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1977. During his time with the NAACP, he improved the organization's finances and increased its membership rolls. He also successfully worked for improved job opportunities for minorities and the creation of a holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
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