Benjamin Hooks
National Visionary

Born January 31, 1925 in Memphis, Tennessee

Minister and civil rights activist

As the first African American commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, the first African American criminal court judge in Tennessee, and long-time head of the NAACP, Benjamin Hooks is a champion of black achievement.

Born on January 31, 1925 in Memphis, Tennessee. The Hooks family greatly valued formal education. Discouraged by his father from going into the ministry, Hooks eventually settled on pre-law and attended LeMoyne College in Memphis, suspending his studies after being drafted into the army in 1943 where he served in the all-black 92nd Infantry Division in Italy. Upon his military discharge, Hooks studied law at DePaul University in Chicago where he earned his J.D. In Memphis, he was an assistant public defender and, although well known and respected in his hometown, his two attempts to gain public office were thwarted. In 1965, he was appointed by Tennessee Governor Frank Clement to fill a Shelby County Criminal Court vacancy, becoming the first African American criminal court judge in Tennessee history, subsequently winning a full term.

An ordained Baptist Minister, in 1956 he became pastor of Middle Baptist Church in Memphis, where he still preaches today. In 1955, acting on his belief that economic opportunity would empower African Americans, he founded the Mutual Federal Savings and Loan Association in Memphis, designed to make capital available to minority entrepreneurs. He owned chicken restaurants and produced, hosted and guest starred on several Memphis TV shows.

Hooks was nominated by President Nixon as the FCC’s first black commissioner in 1972. During his five-year tenure, he focused on increasing minority ownership of TV and radio stations, increasing the number of minorities hired by the Commission, creating an Equal Employment Opportunities office there, and giving preferential treatment to broadcast groups with racially diverse staff and managers.

This interview has
been archived in the
NVLP Collection of
African American
Oral Histories at the
Library of Congress
American Folklife
In July 1977, Hooks resigned to become the chairman of the NAACP, launching such notable initiatives as the Fair Share program, designed to increase minority hiring by major corporations and industry — a program that has infused over a billion dollars into African American pockets; and the Back-to-School/Stay-in-School initiative, targeted towards at-risk secondary school children. He organized voting registration campaigns, opposition to the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, and campaigned for the Martin Luther King holiday.

Ceaselessly working for civil rights, he founded the Benjamin Hooks Chair on Social Justice at Fisk University, and the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis. Chairman of the Tennessee Commission on Human Rights, he has served as a special appointee to the Supreme Court of Tennessee. He is the chairman of the National Civil Rights Museum, sits on the board of MINACT, a minority focused job corps organization, and continues to practice law with the firm of Wyatt, Terrent and Combs. Nearing his eighth decade, Hooks continues to be active in trying to solve the social, political and economic problems of African Americans and shows no sign of slowing down. He has one daughter.



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