Omega Frater Benjamin Hooks, civil rights leader remembered
Benjamin Lawson Hooks was an American civil rights leader. A Baptist minister and practicing attorney, he served as executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1977 to 1992, and throughout his career was a vocal campaigner for civil rights in the United States.
Hooks was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 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, and the family was fairly comfortable by the standards of Black people for the day. Still, he recalls that he had to wear handme- down clothes and that his mother had to be careful to make the dollars stretch to feed and care for the family.
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’s severely depleted treasury, without changing the NAACP’s goals or mandates. “Black Americans are not defeated,” he told Ebony soon after his formal induction 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.”
In his early years at the NAACP, Hooks had some bitter arguments with Margaret Bush Wilson, chairwoman of the NAACP’s board of directors. At one point in 1983, Wilson summarily suspended Hooks after a quarrel over the organization’s policy. Wilson accused Hooks of the board backed Hooks and he never officially left his post as executive director. He has overseen the organization’s positions on affirmative action, federal aid to cities, foreign relations with repressive governments such as that in South Africa, and domestic policy decisions of every sort.
Hooks liked to call himself “just a poor little ol’ country preacher,” but his modesty hardly hid his long list of accomplishments.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and its International President Sheryl P. Underwood join the world in mourning the passing of one of our most noble servants and influent ial leaders, Reverend Dr. Benjamin Hooks.
With the passing of Rev. Dr. Hooks, our brother of Omega Psi Phi, the world is short yet another civil rights champion and historical figure who helped shape American culture. Rev. Dr. Hooks will long be remembered as one who fought to eradicate bigotry and injustice.
The leadership he provided to our nation, and especially the NAACP, provided access to millions who knew no access, and under his leadership, the NAACP realized lowered debt, increased membership and heighten visibility.
Rev. Dr. Hooks fought for the underserved and the overlooked.
From the halls of justice to the baseball field, he remained committed to creating opportunities for inclusion for people who had long been relegated to the back of the line or the back of the bus. He was a servant leader with great vision; working to open doors of employment, community development and access within some of our nations most tightly shut institutions.
Not only did he serve this nation as a leader during the civil rights movement, he served his country in the United States Army. He often found himself guarding those who had more rights and access than he. He will be remembered as a champion of minorities and the less fortunate.
He was a warrior, placed among us at a time when strength and clarity were needed. We ask the current President of the NAACP, Benjamin Jealous, to accept our condolences and share them wi th Chairman Julian Bond, the officers and members of his prestigious organization.