Benjamin L. Hooks: Mississippians recall him as pivotal leader

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Local and state NAACP leaders and a University of Mississippi professor Thursday remembered the Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks as a man of faith and courage, and a tireless champion of human dignity.
Hooks, 85, died at his home in Memphis early Thursday after an extended illness.
Hooks served as executive director of the NAACP from 1977-92, a period during which the civil rights organization reversed a declining membership.
“He oversaw a kind of regeneration or rebirth of the organization,” said the Rev. Robert Jamison, president of the Lee County NAACP.
Dr. Charles Ross, director of the African-African American Studies Program at the University of Mississippi, said Hooks’ tenure coincided with a transition within the civil rights movement, moving from its beginnings in nonviolent protests and grassroots activism, through the militancy of some groups in the late ’60s and early ’70s and finally into the legal approach that Hooks favored.
“The civil rights movement and the NAACP have evolved over the years, and Dr. Hooks evolved with it,” said Ross.
Derrick Johnson, president of the Mississippi NAACP, was with Hooks on the campus of Mississippi State University in April of 1992 when a California jury acquitted three police officers of using excessive force in the beating of Rodney King.
“I was amazed with how well he handled the media, and how deeply he was grounded in the history of the civil rights movement,” said Johnson, who had come to hear Hooks speak.
On that day, Johnson said, Hooks displayed traits that characterized his whole career, namely, a mixture of righteous indignation and intelligent poise.
Like many civil rights leaders, Hooks was also a minister. He served 52 years as pastor of Greater Middle Baptist Church in Memphis before retiring last year. He also served as pastor at Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit.
Johnson said Hooks’ faith was the basis of his strength. “He energized people,” said Johnson. “He fed them. He cast a huge, huge shadow, and he’s going to be missed.”
Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.