Dead, Benjamin Lawson Hooks on April 15, 2010 at the age of 85, he was an American civil rights leader.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee on January 31, 1925, growing up on South Lauderdale and Vance, he was the fifth of seven children born to Robert B. and Bessie White Hooks.
His father was a photographer and owned a photography studio with his brother Henry, known at the time as Hooks Brothers, and the family was fairly comfortable by the standards of black people for the day.
Still, he recalls that he had to wear hand-me-down clothes and that his mother had to be careful to make the dollars stretch to feed and care for the family.
Hooks enrolled in LeMoyne-Owen College, in Memphis, Tennessee.
There he undertook a pre-law course of study 1941–43.
In his college years he became more acutely aware that he was one of a large number of Americans who were required to use segregated lunch counters, water fountains, and restrooms.
“I wish I could tell you every time I was on the highway and couldn’t use a restroom,” he would later recall.
Upon graduation Hooks immediately returned to his native Memphis.
By this time he was thoroughly committed to breaking down the practices of racial segregation that existed in the United States.
Fighting prejudice at every turn, he passed the Tennessee bar exam and set up his own law practice.
“At that time you were insulted by law clerks, excluded from white bar associations and when I was in court, I was lucky to be called Ben,” he recalled in an interview with Jet magazine.
“Usually it was just ‘boy.’ [But] the judges were always fair.
The discrimination of those days has changed and, today, the South is ahead of the North in many respects in civil rights progress.”
Hooks set up shop as a lawyer in his hometown of Memphis, where members of the legal establishment treated him with disdain.
Still determined to fight against segregation, he also got involved with sit-ins and boycotts.
He became a Baptist minister in 1956, and soon joined the executive board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization led by Martin Luther King Jr.
In 1965, the changes the Civil Rights Movement had wrought led to a big shift in Hooks’s own life: He was appointed to be a criminal judge, a first for an African American in Tennessee.
He was elected for a full judicial term the next year.
During this time, he continued to minister at two churches, one in Memphis, and the other in Detroit.
Throughout his career, Benjamin Hooks has stressed the idea of self-help among African Americans.
He urges wealthy and middle-class African Americans to give time and resources to those who are less fortunate.
“It’s time today … to bring it out of the closet.
No longer can we provide polite, explicable [easily explained] reasons why black America cannot do more for itself,” he told the 1990 NAACP convention as quoted by the Chicago Tribune.
“I challenge black America today—all of us—to set aside our alibis.
” After his retirement, Hooks served as pastor of Middle Baptist Church and president of the National Civil Rights Museum, both in Memphis. He also taught at Memphis University.