(born Jan. 31, 1925, Memphis, Tenn., U.S.) American jurist, minister, and government official who was executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from 1977 to 1993.
Hooks attended Le Moyne College in Memphis (1941–43) and Howard University, Washington, D.C. (1943–44; B.A., 1944), served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and later studied law at De Paul University in Chicago (J.D., 1948); no law school in Tennessee was admitting blacks at that time. From 1949 until 1965 he practiced law in Memphis. He participated in restaurant sit-ins of the late 1950s and early ’60s and joined the Board of Directors of Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, among many other civil-rights and public-service organizations. Ordained a Baptist minister in the mid-1950s, he preached regularly at churches in both Memphis and Detroit, and he won a wide following for his eloquence as a public speaker.
Assistant public defender of Shelby County (Memphis) from 1961, he was appointed judge of Shelby County Criminal Court in 1965, the first black to hold that position. He was elected for a full eight-year term in 1966, but he resigned in 1968. In July 1972 Hooks was appointed to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and became the first black FCC commissioner. He resigned to become executive director of the NAACP on Aug. 1, 1977, succeeding Roy Wilkins. Hooks stressed the need for affirmative action and pressed for increased minority voter registration. He deplored underrepresentation of minorities in media ownership.
Benjamin L. Hooks, the former leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, died Thursday at the age of 85. Books died at his Memphis, Tennessee, home after struggling with a long illness.
Hooks was appointed to the Tennessee Criminal Court in 1965, making him the first black judge in a state trial court since the Reconstruction, anywhere in the South. President Richard Nixon nominated Hooks to the Federal Communications Commission in 1972.
He was its first black commissioner. In 1977, Hooks became executive director of the NAACP.
“Ben Hooks was a pioneer, preacher, storyteller, conciliator and visionary,” Senator Lamar Alexander said. “We will miss him greatly.”