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Nation Mourns Death of Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks

Denise Rolark-Barnes | 4/17/2010, 12:20 a.m.

Leaders and friends from across the country are mourning the loss of Benjamin Lawson Hooks, minister, civil rights leader and attorney, who died at his home in Memphis, Tenn., Thu., April 15. He was 85.

In a statement by President Barack Obama, he called it an honor to have spent time with Hooks when he was running for office. He referred to Hooks€ €strong hand and nimble mind€ who lead the NAACP and €inspired each and every one of us to play our part in forging a stronger nation for all Americans. Our national life is richer for the time Dr. Hooks spent on this Earth. And our union is more perfect for the way he spent it: giving a voice to the voiceless. Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Frances; his daughter, Patricia Gray; and all who knew Dr. Hooks through his extraordinary good works.€ Obama said.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous called Hooks one of the greatest Americans of the 20th Century. Hooks served as executive director and CEO of the NAACP from 1977-92 and was later named CEO Emeritus of the 100 year old civil rights organization.

€He was a giant of hope and humanity who, as Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP, expanded the circle of opportunity in our nation for millions by greatly accelerating the desegregation of our largest corporations. He was a crusading lawyer€"the first Black judge in Tennessee since Reconstruction€" who confronted Southern Justice on behalf of the down trodden and oppressed. He was a courageous and committed preacher of the Word who, as chairman of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, insisted that our nation acknowledge and respect the dignity of all Americans regardless of race and ethnicity, as well as gender and sexual orientation. He was a great organizer, communicator, and mentor to legions of young leaders who continue to define our nation today. He was simply the greatest living person to have served as Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP. We will miss him dearly€ Jealous said.

Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks with Ben Jealous, current head of the NAACP. Photo by Lafayette Barnes IV.
Newly appointed NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock said Hooks taught her to stand up for what she believes in. The youngest person to chair the NAACP, Brock said Dr. Hooks led this organization to new heights, and we will continue to honor his legacy by fighting on, in his words €with truth, justice and righteousness on our side.€

D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton said before Hooks became president of the NAACP, he paved the way- as a lawyer, before Blacks were admitted to bar associations in the North or South, as the first Black state judge since Reconstruction in the South, and as the first Black Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. €We have all been beneficiaries of his magnificent service,€ Norton said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Hooks a great patriot and a man of action. €In his calm yet determined way, he worked so that our nation would live up to the aspirations of all of its people. I hope it is a comfort to the many who loved Benjamin Hooks that so many grieve their loss and are praying for them in this sad time,€ Pelosi said.

D.C. Council member Michael Brown (I-At-Large) said as a child, he looked up to Hooks who demonstrated a commitment and passion for African Americans and people of color. A 2007 Medal of Freedom winner, was a well deserved honor bestowed upon Hooks by President George W. Bush, Brown said. €Our nation is all the richer because of the contributions, sacrifices and personal time Dr. Hooks dedicated to our country,€ Brown said.

Civil rights organizations including the Joint Center for Political and Economic Justice and the Lawyer€s Committee for Civil Rights also expressed sadness over Hooks€ death.

Joint Center President and CEO Ralph B. Everett said, €Throughout his life and career, the Rev. Dr. Hooks never flinched in the face of enormous challenges, and his expansive dreams were always grounded in the concerns and aspirations of the least fortunate. As we carry on the work of building a better and more inclusive society that affords opportunity to all, we have Dr. Benjamin Hooks€ shining example to keep us on the right path.€

Lawyers€ Committee Executive Director Barbara R. Arnwine said, €I am tremendously grateful for his unyielding commitment to social justice and his courage. For example, in a White House meeting with President George H.W. Bush he personally admonished the Administration€s lack of attention to inner city poverty and lack of support for public education. His active engagement on a wealth of issues critical to justice and equality for all will certainly be cherished.€

Hooks is survived by his wife, Frances and his daughter, Patricia Gray. Funeral arrangements are open to the public, Visitation will be from 12-8:30 p.m. Tue., April 20 at Greater Middle Baptist Church, 4982 Knight Arnold in Memphis, Tenn., and the funeral will be at 11 a.m. Wed., April 21 at Bountiful Blessings Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ, 369 G.E. Patterson. He will be buried at Elmwood Cemetery.