Benjamin Hooks, Civil Rights Leader, Dies at 85

Benjamin Hooks, a minister, a lawyer and renowned civil rights leader who revitalized the NAACP while serving as its executive director from 1977 to 1992, died today at his home in Memphis, Tenn., after a long illness. He was 85 years old.

A U.S. Army veteran of World War II, he went to law school at DePaul University in Chicago on the G.I. Bill at a time when no law school in the South would admit him, and he returned to his hometown of Memphis to practice after he graduated in 1948. A series of achievements followed, culminating with his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007, recounts the Associated Press.

Along the way he became the first black state-court trial judge since Reconstruction in any southern state, with his appointment to a seat on the Tennessee Criminal Court in 1965, and the first black member of the Federal Communications Commission, in 1972. From there he went on to the NAACP, where he oversaw dramatic increases both in the civil rights’ organization’s membership roster and in its corporate funding.

“Black Americans are not defeated,” Hooks told Ebony magazine soon after he became executive director. “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.”

An ordained Baptist minister, Hooks served as resident minister in two churches, one in Detroit and one in Memphis, and routinely preached in a church somewhere—whether it was his own or someone else’s—every Sunday, reports the New York Times.

“Most people do one or two things in their lifetimes,” says Julian Bond, who formerly headed the Atlanta branch of the NAACP. “He’s just done an awful lot.”

Hooks is survived by his wife, Frances, and a daughter, Patricia Gray.

A biography published by the American Bar Association, The March for Civil Rights: The Benjamin Hooks Story, tells the story of Hooks’ life.

Additional coverage:

Read Street (Baltimore Sun): “Benjamin Hooks dies; brought NAACP to Baltimore”

Detroit Free Press: “Metro Detroiters mourn church leader Hooks”

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