DETROIT – Mourners paid respects Monday to longtime NAACP executive director Benjamin L. Hooks as he laid in repose at the Detroit church where he preached for 30 years.
Hooks was pastor at the Greater New Mount Moriah Baptist Church from 1964 to 1994. He flew to Detroit twice a month to minister there even as he served as a Tennessee judge, Federal Communications commissioner and national civil rights leader.
When Hooks took over as executive director in 1977, the NAACP was $1 million in debt and its membership had shrunk to 200,000 from nearly a half-million a decade earlier. He helped rebuild it, using community radiothons to raise awareness of local branches' work and to boost membership. By the time he left in 1992, the group's membership had grown by several hundred thousand.
Hooks' inspiration to fight social injustice and bigotry stemmed from his experience guarding Italian prisoners of war while serving overseas in the Army during World War II. Foreign prisoners could eat in "for whites only" restaurants but he could not.
He used the GI bill to attend DePaul University in Chicago and later opened his own law practice in his hometown of Memphis.
President Richard Nixon nominated Hooks to the Federal Communications Commission in 1972. He was its first black commissioner and served five years before resigning to lead the NAACP.
Hooks later was chairman of the board of directors of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and helped create The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis.
The 85-year-old died Thursday in Memphis, Tenn., where his funeral is planned Wednesday.