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 ‘colored only’ 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.