Benjamin Hooks was born in Memphis, TN. He was the fifth of seven children of Robert B. Hooks 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. Benjamin was a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Hooks studied pre-law at LeMoyne-Owen College1941–43. After graduating in 1944 from Howard University, he joined the Army and had the job of guarding Italian prisoners of war. After the war he enrolled at the DePaul University College of Law in Chicago to study law. He graduated from DePaul in 1948 with his Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree.

Hooks returned to Memphis, he passed the Tennessee bar exam and set up his own law practice. By 1949 Hooks had earned a local reputation as one of the few black lawyers in Memphis. He married Frances Dancy in 1952. Hooks was a friend and associate of Dr. T.R.M. Howard, the head of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL), a leading civil rights organization in Mississippi. Hooks attended the RCNL’s annual conferences in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, MS which often drew crowds of ten thousand or more. He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1956 and began to preach regularly at the Greater Middle Baptist Church in Memphis, while continuing his busy law practice. He joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (then known as Southern Negro Leaders Conference on Transportation and Nonviolent Integration) along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He also became a pioneer in the NAACP-sponsored restaurant sit-ins and other boycotts of consumer items and services. By 1965 he was well enough known that Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement appointed him to fill a vacancy in the Shelby County criminal court. With this he became the first black criminal court judge in Tennessee history. His temporary appointment to the bench expired in 1966 but he campaigned for, and won election to a full term in the same judicial office. By the late 1960s Hooks was a judge, a businessman, a lawyer, and a minister.

Hooks had been a producer and host of several local television shows in Memphis in addition to his other duties and was a strong supporter of Republican political candidates. In 1972, President Richard Nixon appointed Hooks to be one of the five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Senate confirmed the nomination, and Benjamin and Frances Hooks moved to Washington, D.C. in 1973. On November 6, 1976, the 64-member board of directors of the NAACP elected Hooks executive director of the organization.  Hooks and his wife handled the NAACP’s business and helped to plan for its future for more than 15 years.

On March 24, 2001, Benjamin Hooks and Frances Hooks renewed their wedding vows for the third time, after nearly 50 years of marriage. Hooks died on April 15th 2010 at 85 years old.

  • Hooks was awarded the Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1986.
  • In 1988, Hooks received an honorary doctorate at Central Connecticut State University.
  • NAACP created the Benjamin L. Hooks Distinguished Service Award, which is awarded to persons for efforts in implementing policies and programs which promote equal opportunity.
  • University of Memphis created the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change. The Hooks Institute is committed to bringing scholars together to advance the goals of the civil rights movement, to promote human rights and democratic government worldwide, and to honor the lifetime of work of Hooks.
  • Hooks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in November 2007.
  • Was inducted in the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site on January 12, 2008

The Memphis Library’s main Branch Is named in his honor.

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