Lifelong civil rights activist the Reverend Benjamin Hooks was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 31, 1925. At an early age, Hooks was inspired to excel in his education, largely due to the influence of his grandmother. She was the second black woman in the United States to graduate from college.
Hooks’ education took him to LeMoyne College in Tennessee from 1941 to 1943. That year, he transferred to Howard University and joined the Army, where he guarded Italian prisoners of war. Graduating from Howard in 1944, he went to DePaul University in Chicago for his J.D., completing the program in 1948.
Facing racism everywhere he went, Hooks began to change the problems. He returned to Memphis after law school and set up his own practice, quickly establishing a reputation for himself. After joining the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Hooks was ordained as a minister in 1956 and began preaching in addition to his duties as a lawyer.
In 1965, after a few failed election bids, Hooks was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee criminal court judicial bench, becoming the first African American to serve on the criminal court in Tennessee. Never one to slow down, Hooks also produced several television shows in the area, and his support of President Richard Nixon brought about his appointment as the first African American on the Federal Communications Commission in 1972. When he left the FCC, he was almost immediately voted in to serve as the executive director of the NAACP, where he served from 1977 until 1992.
In the early 1990's, Hooks and his family were among the targets of a series of racially motivated bombings. This, combined with the difficult task of managing an organization the size of the NAACP, led him to retire. Following his departure from the NAACP, Hooks taught at Fisk University as a professor of social justice. In recent years, the University of Memphis established the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, which houses symposia and archives on civil rights. Hooks has been the recipient of several honorary degrees and human rights awards, and has been honored by Congress. He and his wife, Frances, were married in 1951, and together they have one child.