Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dr. Benjamin Hooks, the first Black American appointed to the (FCC) Federal Communications Commission and famed civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks announced his plans on Sunday to retire from the church he has led for more than half a century.

Hundreds of Memphians turned out for what was a bittersweet Pastor Appreciation Day at Greater Middle Baptist Church, where Hooks began preaching 52 years ago.

He said he has enjoyed preaching the gospel, and laughed when he said he "had the reputation of being a pretty good preacher."

Hooks, 83, has been a guest preacher at some of the nation's most prominent churches, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta to megachurches in Detriot.

But Hooks says health problems have forced him to retire from the pulpit. "Well, at the point I made my decision to retire, I was very, very ill. I had missed three or four Sundays in a row out of church, several times, and I didn't feel it was fair to people to remain as pastor," he said. "And number two, for my own sake and health, it would be better to retire."

Dr. Benjamin Hooks is currently serving as a distinguished adjunct professor for the Political Science department of the University of Memphis. In 1996, the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change was established at the University of Memphis. The Hooks Institute is a public policy research center supporting the urban research mission of the University of Memphis, and honoring Dr. Hooks’ many years of leadership in the American Civil Rights Movement. The Institute works to advance understanding of the legacy of the American Civil Rights Movement – and of other movements for social justice – through teaching, research and community programs that emphasize social movements, race relations, strong communities, public education, effective public participation, and social and economic justice.

The Memphis native also lead the NAACP for 15 years. On November 6, 1976, the 64-member board of directors of the NAACP elected Dr. 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 1980, Benjamin Hooks explained why the NAACP was against using violence to obtain civil rights:

QUOTE: There are a lot of ways an oppressed people can rise. One way to rise is to study, to be smarter than your oppressor. The concept of rising against oppression through physical contact is stupid and self-defeating. It exalts brawn over brain. And the most enduring contributions made to civilization have not been made by brawn, they have been made by brain. UNQUOTE

He also served as an FCC commissioner. In 1972, President Richard Nixon appointed Dr. Hooks to be one of the five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Senate confirmed the nomination, and Benjamin and Frances Hooks moved to Washington, D.C. in 1973. As a member of the FCC, Hooks addressed the lack of minority ownership of television and radio stations, the minority employment statistics for the broadcasting industry, and the image of Blacks in the mass media.

Memphis' Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library and the Benjamin Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis are named in his honor.

Early in 1990 Hooks and his family were among the targets in a wave of bombings against civil rights leaders. Hooks visited President George H. W. Bush in the White House to discuss the escalating tensions between races. He emerged from that meeting with the government’s full support against racially motivated bomb attacks, but he was very critical of the administration’s apparent lack of action concerning inner city poverty and lack of support for public education.

On the other hand, Hooks would not lay all the blame for America’s ills at the feet of its elected officials. He has been a staunch advocate of self-help among the black community, urging wealthy and middle-class blacks to give time and resources to those less fortunate. “It’s time today... to bring it out of the closet: No longer can we proffer polite, explicable, reasons why Black America cannot do more for itself,” he told the 1990 NAACP convention delegates. “I’m calling for a moratorium on excuses. I challenge black America today—all of us—to set aside our alibis.”

By 1991 some younger members of the NAACP thought that Hooks had lost touch with black America and ought to resign. One newspaper wrote: “Critics say the organization is a dinosaur whose national leadership is still living in the glory days of the civil rights movement.” Dr. Frederick Zak, a young local NAACP president, was quoted as saying, “There is a tendency by some of the older people to romanticize the struggle—especially the marching and the picketing and the boycotting and the going to jail.”

Hooks feels that the perilous times of the civil rights movement should never be taken for granted, especially by those who were born in the aftermath of the movement’s gains. “A young black man can’t understand what it means to have something he’s never been denied,’ Hooks told U.S. News & World Report. “I can’t make them understand the mental relief I feel at the rights we have. It almost infuriates me that people don’t understand what integration has done for this country.”

Hooks spent his entire career campaigning for civil rights, and as he prepares to retire from preaching, he says he'll never retire from the fight for social justice and the desire to inspire young people. "And I'll say to you young people today, millions of opportunities black and white...don't fight change. Get with Obama. Help make this a better nation," he said. "Lets tear down the walls of discrimination and segregation, and march forward...sisterhood and brotherhood, from sea to shining sea."

Benjamin 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, and the family was fairly comfortable by the standards of Black people for the day. Still, he recalls that he had to wear hand-me-down clothes and that his mother had to be careful to make the dollars stretch to feed and care for the family.

Young Benjamin’s paternal grandmother, Julia Britton Hooks (1852–1942), graduated from Berea College in Kentucky in 1874 and was only the second American black woman to graduate from college. She was a musical prodigy who began playing piano publicly at age five, and at age 18 joined Berea’s faculty, teaching instrumental music 1870–72. Her sister, Dr. Mary E. Britton, also attended Berea, and became a physician in Lexington, Kentucky.

With such a family legacy, young Benjamin was inspired to study hard and prepare himself for college. In his youth, he had felt called to the Christian ministry. His father, however, did not approve and discouraged Benjamin from such a calling.

Dr. Hooks enrolled in LeMoyne-Owen College , in Memphis, Tennessee. There he undertook a pre-law course of study 1941–43. In his college years he became more acutely aware that he was one of a large number of Americans who were required to use segregated lunch counters, water fountains, and restrooms. “I wish I could tell you every time I was on the highway and couldn’t use a restroom,” he told U.S. News & World Report in an interview. “My bladder is messed up because of that. Stomach is messed up from eating cold sandwiches.”

After graduating in 1944 from Howard University, he joined the Army and had the job of guarding Italian prisoners of war. He found it humiliating that the prisoners were allowed to eat in restaurants from which he was barred. He was discharged from the Army after the end of the war with the rank of staff sergeant.

After the war he enrolled at the DePaul University College of Law in Chicago to study law. No law school in his native Tennessee would admit him. He graduated from DePaul in 1948 with his J.D. (law) deg

Hooks said he attributes his many successes in life to his faith in God and the love of his wife Frances. "Well, without her, I couldn't have done it... put it that way!"



Blogger ichbinalj said...

On the day that Benjamin Hooks retired;
The Catwoman, Eartha Kitt expired.

2:33 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

In August 2008 when I visited Memphis' Benjamin Hooks Public Library and applied for a library card for the first time, the clerk asked me if I had ever had a Memphis Library card? I said no. When I lived here I was not allowed inside the Memphis Public Library. The elderly white lady from Maryland looked perplexed. So, I explained to her that until 1968 the official policy concerning public accomodations was that Blacks were not allowed inside the public library. Memphis was a segregated city. There were signs on the door that said "FOR WHITES ONLY".

2:59 PM  
Blogger ichbinalj said...

The Retirement Program will be presided over by Dr. Bernard LaFayette from Emory University and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. I have heard him speak twice. He was a disciple of MLK and was at the Lorraine Motel the day of MLK's assasination. He is a Silver Life member of the NAACP.
He is an advocate of Non-violent Direct Action for social change.

5:49 AM  

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