PULLMAN, Wash. — A combination of friendship and a personal invitation are
helping bring renowned civil rights leader Benjamin Hooks to Washington
State University as keynote speaker for its 2001 celebration of the life of Martin
Luther King Jr.
His free public address will be part of a 7 p.m. program featuring other
speakers, awards and music Jan. 17 in the Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum.
Hooks, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People from 1977-92, was invited by WSU President V. Lane Rawlins.
Both have University of Memphis connections. Rawlins was UM president
prior to assuming the WSU presidency this summer. Hooks is UM’s
Distinguished Professor of Political Science and History, and UM is home of
the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change. His letters and documents
from the civil rights campaign are housed in the UM library.
Talking about Hooks’ civil rights leadership, Rawlins said he was “always a
voice of reason, even at times when reason was hard to find.”
Hooks, who was a personal friend of King and a member of King’s Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, will take part in the traditional Unity March
of campus and community members. It will precede the address. After marchers
gather at 5:45 p.m. on Terrell Mall in front of the Holland Library, the march
begins at 6 p.m. Walking down Stadium Way, marchers will stop for a rally
underneath the pedestrian overpass connecting the Flag Lane area and the
coliseum before using the overpass to enter the coliseum.
An ordained Baptist minister and an attorney, Hooks, 76, was a leader in the
civil rights movement in the South. He was the first African-American elected
to a judgeship in the state of Tennessee, and the first appointed to the Federal
While leading the NAACP, he joined other civil right leaders in fighting to win
the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, enact fair housing legislation and pass the
1991 Voting Rights Bill.
A Memphis native, Hooks graduated from LeMoyne-Owen College in
Memphis. After earning a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago, he
returned to Memphis in the late 1940s, vowing to break down segregation.
In 1965, Hooks became the first black judge in the South since Reconstruction,
when he was appointed by Tennessee Gov. Frank Clement to fill a county
criminal court vacancy. The following year, he won election to a full term. In
1972, he was appointed by President Richard Nixon as the first African
American member of the Federal Communications Commission.
Recipient of many honors, Hooks is a National Bar Association Hall of Fame
member and has received the National Civil Rights Museum’s Freedom Award.
The WSU celebration comes two days after the Rev. King’s birthday on Jan.
15, which is also the national, state and WSU “Martin Luther King Jr. Day”