Notable Memphians talk about Benjamin Hooks' tremendous influence

By Nick Kenney - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - At LeMoyne-Owen College, bells of remembrance echoed around campus Thursday in honor of Dr. Benjamin Hooks.

"There will never, never be another Ben Hooks," LeMoyne-Owen president Johnnie B. Watson said.

Hooks, who attended LeMoyne-Owen, spoke at another alum's inaugural when Memphis elected its first African American Mayor in Willie Herenton.

"In that great oratorial voice, he said, 'I want all of Memphis to know that just because Willie Herenton has been elected mayor, the city of Memphis will not fall in the river. It will prosper.'" Herenton said Thursday.

Hooks died in his home early Thursday morning. His wife, Frances, said he passed peacefully, and the couple had been prepared for it, even though no one else was.

"I felt a void. We all felt a void," Watson said. "Everybody who knew him felt a void, and will continue to feel a void."

"He was a passionate fighter for civil and human rights, and you don't replace a giant like that," Herenton added. "You just thank god that they lived and that they made a difference."

Maxine Smith, the former executive secretary of the Memphis NAACP, said she could talk about Hooks forever.

"As a child, we called him Benny," She said. "And today, he is still Benny to me."

Another pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, the Reverend Billy Kyles, said Hooks was able to walk the trails he helped blaze.

"Martin Luther King loved Ben Hooks...I mean he was right on top," Kyles said.

Hooks was a lawyer, who blazed a trail to the bench.

"I used to go in his courtroom and just sit in the back and watch him preside," Kyles said. "And some of the same lawyers who would not give him a courtesy title, they'd say. 'Hey old Ben,' had to now say, 'If it please the court your honor,' God, 'May I approach the bench?' Oh my goodness! I go back to that. I could hear it 40 times a day. Just thrilled me."

Those who knew him best said Hooks' footprint was enormous across the entire world.

"He just filled so many roles: a preacher, a teacher, a mentor," Smith said.

Kyles added that Hooks was always ready to help.

"He was so giving.  He was giving all the time," Kyles said.

"Benny brought light and hope and healing," Smith said. "As I say, Benny was a giant of a person."

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