EXPIRED: 04/15/10 – Benjamin Hooks, 85, became the executive director of the NAACP in 1977, long after civil rights uprisings faded from the headlines.
Taking over a group that was $1 million in debt and shrunk to 200,000 members from nearly a half-million in the ‘50s and ‘60s, he pledged to increase enrollment and raise funds.
“Black Americans are not defeated,” he said, “the civil rights movement is not dead. If anyone thinks that we are not going to demonstrate and protest, they had better roll up the sidewalks.”
By the time he ended his position as executive director in 1992, the group rebounded. He created initiatives that expanded employment opportunities for blacks and launched programs where corporations participated in economic development projects in black communities.
Hooks brought dignity and strong leadership back to the NAACP.
Hooks’ inspiration to fight bigotry stemmed from experiences he faced while serving in the Army during World War II. It was there that he learned that foreign prisoners of war – prisoners he was guarding – were allowed to eat in “for whites only” restaurants while he was barred from dining in them.
Upon his return to the States, he found that no law school in the South would have him, so he attended college up north. He ended up starting a law office in Memphis, Tennessee, and was eventually appointed to a newly created seat on the Tennessee Criminal Court, making him the first black judge since Reconstruction in the Deep South.
President Nixon nominated Hooks to the Federal Communications Commission in ‘72. He was its first black commissioner, and during his time served minority employment in broadcasting grew from 3% to 15%.
He quit the FCC in 1977 to lead the NAACP, a role he held for 15 years.
Two years ago President George W. Bush presented Hooks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the country’s highest civilian honors.
“Dr. Hooks was a calm yet forceful voice for fairness,” said Bush in one of his rare moments of clarity, “He never tired or faltered in demanding that our nation live up to its founding ideals of liberty and equality.”