Spanning three-quarters of a century, Benjamin Hooks not only witnessed change but was instrumental to it. Through his work as an ordained minister and practicing attorney, Hooks' lifelong commitment to equality helped improve the lives African Americans and American society in general.
Hooks was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1925. After military service in World War II, he received a law degree from DePaul University. He worked as a lawyer in Memphis before being ordained as a Baptist minister.
Hooks became active in the civil rights movement and participated in the campaign against Jim Crow laws, including sit-in protests against segregated lunch counters. In 1965, Governor Frank Clement appointed Hooks to the Shelby County criminal court; he became the first African American criminal court judge in Tennessee. Hooks' involvement in the government continued when President Richard Nixon appointed him to the Federal Communications Commission in 1972. He was the first African-American to hold that position. Five years later, Hooks became executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), a post he held until 1992. Additionally, Hooks served as an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis. Today, the University of Memphis is home to the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, a non-profit public policy research center.
Hooks' work has been recognized through awards including the NAACP Spingarn Medal, which he received in 1986. He took a strong stance on AIDS prevention and promoted the NAACP’s role in education and prevention. As a testament to his contributions to American culture and race relations, President George W. Bush awarded Hooks the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007.
Benjamin Hooks passed away in 2010 at the age of 85.