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Civil rights pioneer Benjamin Lawson Hooks was born in Memphis on January 31, 1925. A graduate of Howard University and DePaul University Law School, Hooks practiced law in Memphis and in 1965 became the first African American Criminal Court Judge in Shelby County. Hooks was also the first African American to serve on the Federal Communications Commission when he was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon in 1972. Elected executive director of the NAACP in 1977, Hooks led that venerable civil rights organization until his retirement in 1993. In recognition of his dedicated public service, the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library was named in his honor on October 27, 2005. Two years later, on November 5, 2007, President George W. Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom for being "a calm yet forceful voice for fairness, opportunity and personal responsibility."






 A portrait of Benjamin L. Hooks


Benjamin L. Hooks

A Life of Service



“I wanted to go back to Memphis to practice law because I wanted to be a part of the change and I was sure in my bones and heart and my brain and my spirit that segregation would come to an end in the South.”


1925 - Born in Memphis on January 31 to Robert Britton and Bessie White Hooks.


1941 - Graduated from Booker T. Washington High School.


1941-43 - Attended LeMoyne College and studied pre-law.


1943 - Inducted into the United States Army and received instruction in the Army Specialized Training Program at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Assigned to the 92nd Infantry Division, Hooks served with distinction in the Italian campaign and achieved the rank of first sergeant.


1946 - Attended the University of Florence in Italy while waiting to be discharged from the Army.


1948 - Graduated from DePaul University Law School in Chicago, Illinois, with a J.D. degree.


1949 - Established law practice on Beale Street and helped organize the Tennessee Voters Council.


1951 - Married Frances Dancy on March 20th. They have a daughter, two grandsons, seven great-grandchildren and one great-great grandson.


1951 - Served as co-campaign manager for Dr. J. E. Walker’s candidacy for the Memphis Board of Education. Walker was defeated but 17,000 African Americans registered to vote in part due to Hooks’s efforts.


1952 - Co-founded the Hooks Brothers supermarket with brother Robert.


1952 - Served on the welcoming committee for Republican presidential nominee Dwight Eisenhower during his visit to Memphis on October 15th.


1956 - Ordained as Pastor of Greater Middle Baptist Church in March.


1956 - Founded Mutual Federal Savings and Loan with attorney A. W. Willis.


1957 - Appointed, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to serve on the Board of Directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).


1959 - Ran unsuccessfully for Juvenile Court Judge on the Volunteer Ticket which sought to elect African Americans to public office in Memphis.


1960 - Defended Owen Junior College and LeMoyne College students who were charged with disorderly conduct after leading sit-in demonstrations at  McLellan’s Variety Store and the public library.


1961 - Became the first black to serve in the Memphis Public Defender’s Office.


1964 - Became the Pastor of New Mount Moriah Church in Detroit, Michigan.


1965 -  Appointed the first black Criminal Court judge since Reconstruction by Tennessee Governor Frank Clement on September 1st.


1966 - Elected as Criminal Court judge by the voters of Shelby County.


1968 - Resigned from the Criminal Court bench and founded the Mahalia Jackson Chicken System, Inc. with A. W. Willis. The company operated 27 fried chicken restaurants in seven states.


1968 - Organized the Judge Ben Hooks Study Group for black and white participants to read literature and learn of each other.


1968 - Produced and hosted the television programs Conversations in Black and White and Ben Hooks Report, co-produced the TV show 40% Speaks and served as a panelist on the television program What is Your Faith?


1972 - Appointed to the Federal Communications Commission by President Richard M. Nixon.


1976 - Received the National Conference of Christians and Jews National Human Relations Award, along with his wife Frances.


1977 - Elected Executive Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.


1979 - Served as chairman of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights until his resignation in 1994. As chairman, he successfully lobbied for the passage of the 1982 Voting Rights Act extension, the 1983 Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday, the Fair Housing Amendments of 1988, the Civil Rights Restoration Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.


1980 - Was the first national political figure to ever address both national political conventions in the same year.


1982 - Increased registration of voters for the NAACP to 850,000.


1986 - Received the NAACP Spingarn Medal, the 71st recipient.


1992 - Retired as Executive Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.


1993 -Became President of the Board of Directors of the National Civil Rights Museum and established the Benjamin L. Hooks Chair for Social Change at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.


1994 - Resigned the pastorate of Greater New Mount Moriah Church.


1996 - Founded the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis and named adjunct professor of political science and history.


1997 - Elected chairman of Universal Life Insurance Company and named to the Board of Directors of Tri-State Bank.


1998 - Inducted into the National Bar Association’s Hall of Fame.


1999 - Elected Grand Master of the Masons for the State of Tennessee.


2001 - Celebrated the addition of a wax figure of Hooks to the Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.


2002 - Joined the law firm of Wyatt, Tarrant and Combs and aided in the establishment of the Diversity Practice Group.


2002 - Co-founded the Children's Health Forum with former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp to eradicate preventable childhood diseases that disproportionately affected poor and minority communities.


2004 - Published his memoir, The March for Civil Rights: the Benjamin Hooks Story.


2005 - Honored with the renaming of the main branch of the Memphis Public Library and Information Center as the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.


2006 - Served as chairman of the board of Minact, a minority business which operated the Job Corps Center. The Memphis Job Corps office was renamed the Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks Job Corps Center.


2007 - Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush.


2008 - Inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.


2008 - Awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Rhodes College.


2009 - Retired from the pastorate of Greater Middle Baptist Church.


2010 - Died in Memphis on April 15, 2010.



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