WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., made the following statement today celebrating the life of Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, of Memphis, who passed away at the age of 85.
"I join the many people in Tennessee and across America who honor the life of Dr. Benjamin Hooks, and I send my heartfelt condolences to his family," Corker said. "It would be difficult to recount all of the contributions Ben Hooks made during his remarkable life as a preacher, judge and civil rights pioneer, and we know his legacy will continue on in our state and throughout our country for generations to come."
In November 2007, Senator Corker delivered the following speech on the Senate floor recognizing Dr. Hooks for receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then President George W. Bush.
Tribute to Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks Senate Floor Speech
U.S. Senator Bob Corker
November 02, 2007
Mr. President, I rise today to honor an exceptional Tennessean and a pioneer in the civil rights movement. Mr. President, Benjamin Hooks was born in Memphis, TN in 1925, the fifth of seven children by Robert and Bessie Hooks. He grew up in a loving family that taught him to succeed in both education and life. After high school Dr. Hooks began his higher education by taking pre-law classes at LeMoyne College in Memphis. Prior to finishing his degree he was drafted into the Army and honorably served our country in World War II. When he returned home he went on to graduate school at Howard University and afterwards received his law degree from DePaul University in Chicago.
Mr. President, as Dr. Hooks went through life and excelled in his various endeavors there was one experience that greatly molded the future direction of his life - being born into and growing up in the scourge of racial segregation. After Dr. Hooks graduated college he returned home and vowed to do his part to end racial segregation. Initially, he fought the fight by becoming one of the first African American lawyers in Tennessee. It was during this time he met and married Ms. Frances Dancy. Frances was a school teacher and guidance counselor. Eventually her career took a different path and she became her husband's assistant, advisor, and traveling companion. They have one daughter together - Patricia Hooks Gray.
As Dr. Hooks continued to practice law, he was called to fight for civil rights from another forum - the ministry. In 1956 he was ordained a Baptist minister and began to preach regularly at the Middle Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. It was there he joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and became a pioneer in the NAACP sponsored restaurant sit ins and other boycotts. Through these efforts he became a respected voice in the community and the state and in 1965 Governor Frank Clement appointed him to become the first African American criminal court judge in Tennessee history.
His efforts as a preacher, judge, and civil rights pioneer eventually led Hooks to Washington DC to become the first African American appointee to the FCC. There he continued the civil rights fight by addressing numerous minority representation issues in the communications industry.
In 1976 he was elected as the Executive Director of the NAACP, there he led that organization for more than 15 years. As the Director he helped to increase membership and fundraising efforts as well as plan for the organizations future for 17 years. He also broadened the scope of the NAACP by exploring national issues such as energy, environment, the criminal justice system, welfare and national health insurance.
Throughout his work as a civil rights advocate he has received numerous awards, including the Humanitarian Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum. The University of Memphis created the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change honoring Benjamin Hooks. The Hooks Institute works to advance the understanding of the civil rights movement through teaching, research and community programs that put an emphasis on social movements, race relations, strong communities, public education, effective public participation, and social and economic justice.
On Monday, Mr. President, I am pleased that Dr. Hooks will receive one more honor and one of the highest civilian awards - the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This medal is given to individuals who have made an especially meritorious contribution to society and Dr. Hooks is a living example of the type of person. His life is an example that even while facing adversity - through hard work you can accomplish revolutionary change. His legacy will not only continue in our state but also throughout our nation so it is only fitting that, through this award, he once again joins the ranks of other civil rights pioneers such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Clarence M. Mitchell, Leon Howard Sullivan, and Roy Wilkins. Mr. President, it is an honor and a privilege to serve in the United States Senate on behalf of Tennesseans, like Dr. Hooks, who have exemplified great courage that has not only positively affected our state but our country as well.