NPR has this important story today on one of the premier leaders of U.S. civil rights struggles, Benjamin L. Hooks (1925-2010):
Benjamin L. Hooks, a champion of minorities and the poor who as executive director of the NAACP increased the group’s stature. . . . “I don’t know anybody who lived a more triumphant life,” former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young told NPR. … Hooks became [NAACP] executive director in 1977, taking over a group that was $1 million in debt and had shrunk to 200,000 members. … He pledged to increase enrollment and raise money for the organization. . . . “If anyone thinks that we are going to stop agitating, they had better think again,” he said. “If anyone thinks that we are going to stop litigating, they had better close the courts. If anyone thinks that we are not going to demonstrate and protest, they had better roll up the sidewalks.”
Hooks view of the current scene resonates well with the need for much more civil rights organization:
“Now, the fight is not over water fountains, it’s not over riding the bus, it’s over who’s going to drive that bus,” he said. “Now, once we start digging into these economic issues, resistance may grow.”
He was a path breaker in his own life:
In 1965 he was appointed to a newly created seat on the Tennessee Criminal Court, making him the first black judge since Reconstruction in a state trial court anywhere in the South. … nominated Hooks to the Federal Communications Commission in 1972. He was its first black commissioner, serving for five years before resigning to lead the NAACP. … Hooks also created an initiative that expanded employment opportunities for blacks in Major League Baseball and launched a program where corporations participated in economic development projects in black communities.
The NAACP has continued to be a source of white supremacist attacks since the 1960s:
In 1989, a string of gasoline bomb attacks in the South killed a federal judge in Alabama and a black civil rights lawyer in Savannah, Ga. Another bomb was intercepted at an NAACP office in Jacksonville, Fla., and an Atlanta television station received a letter threatening more attacks on judges, attorneys and NAACP leaders. “We believe that this latest incident is an effort to intimidate our association, to strike fear in our hearts,” Hooks said at the time. “It will not succeed. We intend to go about our business.”
He was one of the greats of a great generation that is passing all too quickly. We still need their leadership.