- Reuters | Jason Reed
On April 15, 2010, Memphis native Benjamin Hooks, responsible for helping eradicate segregation in the U.S. decades ago, succumbed to heart failure at age 85. His memory will be honored at the Benjamin Hooks Institute for Social Change's "Join Hands for Change" gala on Saturday, April 26th.
Four years after his passing, his great-nephew, Michael Hooks Jr., remembers the principles he learned from the late civil rights activist.
"The biggest thing I learned from him was a sense of work ethic and to be motivated not by fear, not by money, but by purpose," said Michael, who is now working as the chief project manager for All Worlds Project Management. "I think that was his drive, that he had a genuine purpose to help other people. That resonated with me in the simplest way. I try to be a better man and live by those principles."
Hooks had a passion for combating racial, social, and economic disparities, but he played other roles as well. Hooks was the first African-American criminal court judge in Tennessee since the Reconstruction era and the first African-American appointee to the Federal Communications Commission. In that role, he fought to increase the country's number of minority broadcasters and change the image of blacks portrayed in the media.
Hooks was also a practicing attorney, Baptist minister, member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for 15 years.
Despite these accolades, those who knew Hooks said he was down-to-earth, charismatic, courteous, and boasted a great sense of humor.
Daphene McFerren, director of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, a public policy research center, worked closely with Hooks during the final years of his life.
"He recognized that there are many disparities including justice, economic, and health disparities. And his legacy is a roadmap to what we, in this generation, should be looking to do to eradicate these disparities," McFerren said.
The Hooks Institute's gala will highlight how the civil rights movement not only challenged legal segregation and demanded equality but also contributed to transforming the nation's music, fashion, and cultural landscape.
The gala will take place from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Hotel Memphis (2625 Thousand Oaks) and will feature a 1960s theme. Attendees are encouraged to dress in '60s attire, such as dashikis, loose flowing shirts, black leather jackets, and afros.
"We need to understand and appreciate how the civil rights movement enriched the cultural experience not only for Americans but for people all over the world," McFerren said.
Hooks' legacy in the fight against racial, economic, and social injustice is kept alive through entities such as the Hooks Institute and the Memphis Public Library's main branch, which was named the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in his honor.
But for a younger generation who may be unaware of Hooks' activism, his family members, such as his great-cousin Brent Hooks, a board member at the Hooks Institute, have helped keep his name alive and the torch burning for social action in the community.
"He influenced me to reach out to people and connect with them in a personal way [and] influence lives in a positive way," Brent said. "He fought for something that was real. He was a leader in the movement, and the fight isn't over."