Benjamin Hooks, NAACP Head & Champion For The Poor, Dies At 85

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    Obit Benjamin Hooks

    From the New York Times:

    Benjamin L. Hooks, a golden-tongued orator who led of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for 16 years, died Thursday at the age of 85.

    State Representative Ulysses Jones, a member of the church where Mr. Hooks was pastor, said he died at his home in Memphis after a long illness.

    While best known for leading the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights group, Mr. Hooks had a varied career that bridged the often disparate worlds of black and white America. He was a Baptist minister who headed two churches. He was a lawyer and a criminal court judge — the first black to be appointed to the bench in his native Tennessee. He was the first of his race to be named to the five-member Federal Communications Commission. And he was a businessman who years ago owned several fried chicken franchises in Memphis.

    “He’s had an amazing career,” said Julian Bond, a former head of the Atlanta branch of the N.A.A.C.P. “Judge, F.C.C. commissioner, minister of churches in two different cities at the same time, businessman, head of the N.A.A.C.P. Most people do one or two things in their lifetimes. He’s just done an awful lot.”

    Mr. Hooks was also an inspirational leader whose oratory was reminiscent of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which had Mr. Hooks as one of its board members. Mixing quotations from Shakespeare or Keats with the cadence and idioms of his native Mississippi Delta, Mr. Hooks thrilled his largely black following in his speeches.

    “There is a beauty in it and a power in it,” Mr. Hooks once said of his and other black preachers’ speaking style.

    In 2007, President George W. Bush presented Mr. Hooks with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the country’s highest civilian honors.

    “I have fought the good fight,” Hooks said in his valedictory to the N.A.A.C.P. in 1992. “I have kept the faith.”

    Benjamin Lawson Hooks was born Jan. 31, 1925, in Memphis. With his father’s photography business providing a stable middle-class grounding, Mr. Hooks attended LeMoyne College in Memphis. After serving three years in the Army during World War II and rising to staff sergeant, Mr. Hooks attended law school at DePaul University in Chicago, graduating in 1948.

    In 1951, while working as a lawyer in Memphis, he wed Frances Dancy, a high-spirited, fun-loving woman whose friends could not believe she was marrying such a straight arrow. After all, when they dated, Mr. Hooks made her agree that if they went to a dance one night, the next date had to include a civic meeting or a church social.

    Mr. Hooks earned the nickname “Jacob” as a teen-ager because of his keen interest in Bible studies. An ordained Baptist minister, he has long been the resident minister at two churches — one in Detroit and the other in Memphis. His love of the ministry was such that he insisted on preaching a sermon at some church — his own or someone else’s — every Sunday, even during his time on the Federal Communications Commission and at the N.A.A.C.P.

    “My life was built around being in those pulpits on Sunday,” Mr. Hooks said in an interview.

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