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Benjamin Hooks: judge, FCC commissioner, civil rights leader

Benjamin Hooks receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush in 2007
Benjamin Hooks receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush in 2007
AP photo

Mourners laid long-time civil rights activist Dr. Benjamin Hooks to rest this week after praising his humility, toughness and amazing ability to balance several careers. Hooks died April 15 in Memphis. He was 85.

The last time I talked with Hooks was on Atlanta's Martin Luther King Drive in January of 1987. Hooks was walking down the street with a couple of assistants and I was leaving the Atlanta University Center campuses after completing a story.

I remember he asked me whether I was going to cover the big Forsyth County, Ga. march coming up that weekend. Activists converged on the suburban Atlanta county after reports of anti-black incidents and a small march led by Hosea Williams a week earlier had been pelted with rocks and debris.

There was a momentary pause and we both laughed. Of course I covered the massive demonstration along with a couple of hundred other reporters from across the country and around the world. Hooks was at the head of the march with Coretta Scott King, Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, Hosea and Rev. Joseph Lowery.

I mentioned that Hooks balanced several careers. He was an ordained minister who preached at two Baptist churches, in separate states. Hooks was pastor at Detroit's New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist twice a month for 30 years. Hooks also led Greater Middle Baptist Church in his native Tennessee.

Hooks kept up that schedule even while serving as a judge, first black FCC commissioner and executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Hooks was perhaps best known bringing the NAACP back from its $1 million dollar debt and dwindling membership to fiscal health.

President Nixon nominated Hooks to the Federal Communications Commission in 1972. He served five years before leaving to lead the NAACP from 1977 to 1992.
Mourners at his funeral eulogized Hooks as a humble man despite his many accomplishments.


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