Benjamin L. Hooks Passes Away at 85

The former executive director of the NAACP was a champion for Blacks and the poor.

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Benjamin Hooks, former head of the NAACP, has died

Benjamin L. Hooks, a civil rights leader who led the NAACP from 1977 to 1992, has died, said the vice president for communication at the NAACP.

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Born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1925, Hooks grew up in the segregated South.

Hooks served in the U.S. Army during World War II, where he "found himself in the humiliating position of guarding Italian prisoners of war who were allowed to eat in restaurants that were off limits to him. The experience helped to deepen his resolve to do something about bigotry in the South," according to a biography published by the University of Memphis, where he was a professor in the political science department.

He also was a lawyer and an ordained Baptist minister who joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and led the NAACP for 15 years.

The organization "was suffering from declining membership and prestige when Hooks assumed his role as executive director," the University of Memphis biography said. The NAACP added several hundred thousand new members under his leadership, it said.

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"As a civil rights activist, public servant and minister of the gospel, Dr. Hooks has extended the hand of fellowship throughout his years," Bush said. "It was not an always thing -- easy thing to do. But it was always the right thing to do.

"For 15 years, Dr. Hooks was a calm yet forceful voice for fairness, opportunity and personal responsibility. He never tired or faltered in demanding that our nation live up to its founding ideals of liberty and equality."

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