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Memphis Bar Association message
on the death of Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks


The Memphis Bar Association was sad to learn of the passing of Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks at age 85 this morning. The lawyer, judge, civil rights leader, pastor, and author has been a long-time friend of the Memphis Bar Association and the Memphis Bar Foundation during his stellar career. In 1998, the Bar Foundation created the Benjamin L. Hooks Award to recognize a lawyer or judge whose activities, both locally and on a national level, have significantly fulfilled the Foundation’s mission to support public awareness of the legal profession, promote social justice and legal education, and recognize professionalism among members of the Bar. The award was named in honor of Dr. Hooks, its first recipient, in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the law and social justice, and his prominence on the national stage.

In presenting the Benjamin L. Hooks award at the National Bar Association’s Annual Meeting in Memphis in 1998, the late Irvin Bogatin made the following remarks about Dr. Hooks:

“When the Foundation Board determined it would create an award to be given to a Memphis lawyer or judge whose activities in both Memphis and on a national level track its mission, there was a unanimous decision that Benjamin L. Hooks should be honored by this initial presentation.

Ben attended Memphis schools and LeMoyne [Owen] College obtaining his legal training at DePaul College of Law and graduating in 1948. He began his practice in Memphis. He was the first black to serve in many public offices including the Public Defender’s Office and in 1965, as a Criminal Court Judge, and later as a member of a federal regulatory agency, namely the Federal Communications Commission.

In 1976, he was elected Executive Director of the NAACP and served in that capacity until 1993.

He was a G.I. and saw combat with the 92nd Infantry Division in Italy during World War II.

Ben serves or has served on numerous bodies including the Memphis, Shelby County and Tennessee Crime Commissions; the National Civil Rights Museum; the WLB-TV Station; and the Universal Life Insurance, of which he was one of the three founders.

He has been involved in radio and TV broadcasting as panelist and moderator on numerous occasions and was the host of ‘Conversations in Black and White’ on WMC-TV and ‘What’s Your Faith’ on WREG-TV.

He was President of Mutual Federal Savings and Loan Association which he helped found and served on the Board of Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

He has been and continues to be Pastor of the Greater Middle Baptist Church since 1956 and as Pastor of the Greater Mt. Moriah Baptist Church from 1963-1994. He was characterized as a dynamic preacher in both institutions.

Not only were he and his wife, Frances, the first couple to win the award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews in 1976, he has been honored by virtually all of the civic and business clubs in Memphis and Frances has been similarly honored on many occasions.

Ben was a member over the years of at least some 20 organizations to all of which he contributed his talent and leadership.

Ben Hooks revitalized the NAACP. He made it clear to then President Carter that he needed a policy which would recognize the agony of the poor, listen to complaints of blacks and other minorities and give them hopes of relief. He turned NAACP’s direction to aggressive efforts on racial programs. He stated his impact would be felt on everything in the area and made it known that he was a fighter. He struggled for affirmative action in collegiate admissions. He stated there had been a continuous lag in black opportunities and African-Americans needed time to catch up and close the gap. He further stated he was not going to apologize in discussing his activist attempts to right the civil rights wrongs. He reserved the right to break new grounds. Ben always felt he avoided bitterness because of his close and loving family, namely Frances; a daughter, Patricia Gray; two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He was named distinguished professor of the Benjamin L. Hooks, Chair for Social Justice at Fisk University.

Quoting from a tribute to Ben from the Memphis Community it was stated, ‘You have done us proud as an outstanding lawyer, judge, businessman, minister, FCC Commissioner and National Executive Director of the NAACP. You have brought a new surge of dynamics to the freedom movement and its leadership. Despite recalcitrant governmental officials, you have kept the African-American agenda on the front burner. You gave birth to the NAACP’s Fair Share Program which has insured black inclusion in all levels of corporate and business America. History will record that Benjamin L. Hooks made a positive difference in the lives of so many in our community, our nation and our world and history will also record that he is ‘The Man From Memphis.’’

Subsequent recipients of the Benjamin L. Hooks Award are the Honorable Bernice Bouie Donald of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, S. Shepherd Tate of Martin Tate Morrow & Marston, P.C., Mayor A C Wharton and Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia of the United States Supreme Court.

We at the Memphis Bar Association extend our deepest sympathies to Dr. Hooks’ wife of 50 years, Frances, and his many friends and family.




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