Benjamin Hooks Papers

Benjamin Hooks and the Federal Communications Commission (1972-1977)

By William C. love

Benjamin Hooks, Seated as FCC commissioner

On an early morning in 1972, Benjamin Hooks received a call from Howard Baker, a Republican senator from Tennessee.  Baker informed Hooks that he intended to make Hooks the first Black nominee for the Federal Communications Commission.  At first, Hooks, suspicious of adjoining himself to the Nixon administration, declined the offer but after discussing the matter with his wife, Hooks changed his mind and accepted the nomination.

As Hooks recalled in one of his memoirs, the nomination process and his eventual appointment was mostly determined by racial politics.  When the U.S. Senate initially debated the appointments, William D. Wright, president of Black Efforts for Soul in Television, demanded to know why no Blacks were being considered for the commissioner role.  After a heated exchange in which Wright accused the Senate committee of blatant racism, the committee adjourned and turned to President Nixon in order to assure that a Black man was duly considered.  As Wright refused to back off his accusations of racism, the white nominees were all stalled and Hooks’ confirmation as FCC commissioner went through the Senate relatively swiftly.

As a FCC commissioner, Hooks was charged with overseeing the branch of the Federal government that regulated the communications industry of the United States.   A legacy of New Deal legislation of the mid 1930s, the FCC was officially chartered to “make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nationwide and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.”   In its original form, it was intended to bolster national security, as communication with the public regarding security threats was deemed the responsibility of the federal government.  Over time as the communications industry developed, it began to regulate television and cable companies and at present contains seven bureaus that regulate various aspects of telecommunications and broadcasting.

As a civil rights activist, Hooks carried over the principles cultivated throughout his life as a preacher, lawyer, and judge into the FCC.  As Hooks would recall, after only a few days as the FCC commissioner, he saw that his job would entail “confronting and trying to right some of the historic wrongs involving race and gender that the Commission and the industry it regulates had perpetuated for so very, very long.”  It was not that he, himself, as the FCC Commissioner encountered racism but rather saw that the policies still enforced by the FCC had not adapted to a post-civil rights era.  As Hooks reported, of the 2,200 FCC employees, only five were Black when he arrived, but upon his departure, he had boosted the number to over 70.

Hooks’ tenure with the FCC makes up a minor portion of the Benjamin Lawson Hooks papers.  Of the 397 boxes in the collection, only 11 pertain to the FCC and none of the major photograph or audiovisual files contain materials from Hooks’ tenure with the FCC.  However, contained within the FCC files are over two dozen interviews and speeches that Hooks gave as FCC commissioner.  These speeches and interviews demonstrate that Hooks’ civil rights initiatives continued throughout his tenure as FCC commissioner, even if filtered through a new lens of broadcasting and networking initiatives.

In addition to pressing the FCC, itself, to hire more minorities, Hooks used his position as FCC commissioner to press for the inclusion of minorities in all areas of the American broadcasting industry.   In one of his first speeches as FCC Commissioner in July of 1972, Dr. Hooks addressed the Wisconsin Broadcasters’ Association about what he called the “Black-In” move within the Communications industry.  By Black-In broadcasting, Hooks meant “BLACK-IN programming, BLACK-IN employment, BLACK-IN managerial affairs, BLACK-IN community participation, BLACK-IN every aspect of the broadcasting landscape.”   Hooks continued that for “too long, Blacks as well as other minorities, have been excluded from meaningful participation in the communications medium, and as Commissioner I intend to marshal every resource at my command to ameliorate the situation.”

Hooks echoed this same theme throughout many of his speeches, remarking to the Universal Life Insurance Company in 1973, that the media is still all too closed off to the Black community as well as women and other minorities.  He noted that of the 38,000 individuals working in the newspaper industry as “writers, editors, photographers” and general newsroom professionals, less than 1 percent were minorities and women.  Even in the industry at large, only about 4.6 percent of the newspaper work force was occupied by Black individuals.  In the television industry, no Blacks owned any of the 693 television stations operating in the country, and further, only one Black man in Jackson, Mississippi, Bill Dilday, even managed a television station.  Thus, Hooks wanted to ensure that the FCC worked with its internal EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) Unit to ensure that the FCC “set about correcting some of the historical employments wrongs within the Agency.”  Further, it had recently established an external EEO unit to regulate the hiring standards of the broadcast industry to insure people of all genders and races received equal opportunity for employment in broadcasting.

While Hooks was committed to ensuring that the broadcasting and communications industry sought to hire qualified minorities, Hooks was also keenly aware of the double-edged sword that the industry had brought to the Black community.    On the one hand, the entertainment industry had provided the Black community with a very visible form of progress.  Many of the most visible well-to-do members of the Black community were televised musicians, athletes, and entertainers who had provided the Black community with role models.  On the other hand, the entertainment industry obscured the reality of the Black community by only promoting both the positive and negative sensations of the Black community to the detriment of normal working class Black families.  As Hooks once remarked in an interview with The Black Journal, “Minorities need positive models that they can govern themselves on.  When my little grandson watches a television set, he may not be able to be a singer and athlete, but hopefully he may have enough brains to be a lawyer or a doctor.”  The white community is constantly shown images of successful working class people, he noted, but much work was needed to ensure that Blacks had both access to working opportunities in the broadcasting and communications industry and also represented fairly and equally by the programs of the broadcasting industry.

Dr. Hooks resigned as FCC commissioner in 1977 to take over the position of Executive Director of the NAACP, but his legacy as the first Black FCC commissioner paved the way for other Black members including Tyrone Brown, Andrew Barrett, Willian Kennard, and eventual chairman, Michael Powell.

The Benjamin Lawson Hooks Papers

The Benjamin Lawson Hooks Papers: An Introduction

By William C. Love

In 1996, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, three years retired as Executive Director of the NAACP, donated his professional papers to the University of Memphis Libraries. The time and scope of the papers range from the mid-1970s when he served as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission to the early 2000s when Dr. Hooks worked with the Hooks Institute for Social Change, an institute that continues to work with the University of Memphis to teach, study, and promote Civil Rights and social change in the Memphis area.

The papers were given in installments to the University of Memphis Libraries between 1996 and 2006.  The papers were processed and housed in 2007, with no new additions arriving until 2015 when Dr. Hooks’ daughter, Patricia Hooks, donated 4 boxes of manuscript and audio/visual material.  As the collection stands now, it contains 397 archival boxes with close to 195,000 items that range from correspondence to printed material, memoranda, administrative files, photographs, and audio/visual material.

While there is substantive material on the FCC and Dr. Hooks’ wife, Frances Hooks, the overwhelming majority of the collection pertains to Dr. Hooks’ time as Executive Director of the NAACP.  Of the 397 boxes in the collection, close to 380 pertain to the NAACP between 1977 and 1993.  The NAACP materials are broken into sub-series that include General Activities, Administrative Files, Financial Materials, Legal Files, The Crisis Magazine Materials, Branch Files, Photographs, Sound and Film Recordings, Plaques and Awards, and Oversized Materials.

From the standpoint of research value, the “General Activities” are the richest in content.   It includes correspondence, speeches, NAACP initiative proposals, subject files, and press releases.   It also contains the majority of documents either in the voice of Benjamin Hooks or the voice of someone writing on his behalf.  While it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the writing and thoughts of Dr. Hooks from those of his writers and assistants, the speeches, correspondence, and press releases most certainly reflect Dr. Hooks’ will and thoughts, if not exact words.  The subject files, while often provocatively labeled (e.g. Ku Klux Klan) are generally topical files compiled by Hooks and his assistants.  There is little in the subject files in his voice and while it is of interest to know the kinds of issues Hooks and his team followed in the media, the subject files give little indication of his thoughts on their content.

The other main subseries of interest are the photographs and audio/visual materials.  The photograph subseries primarily depicts NAACP events, specifically the annual conventions, fund raisers, and meetings between NAACP executives and private donors or public officials.  The photographs number approximately 2000, but many are either duplicates or multiple snaps of the same pose.  Thus, there are probably close to 800 substantive photographs in the collection.  The photographs are often unannotated and do not immediately relate to other parts of the collection.  While one can draw parallels between the photographs and the General Activities subseries, the photographs primarily serve as a visual index of NAACP events and award ceremonies given for Dr. Hooks throughout his career.  While we aim to digitize the substantive photographs, the photographs are mostly an aesthetic supplement and introduction to the collection.

The audio/visual materials, by contrast, provide much interpretative substance.  There are several dozen audiocassette tapes of sermons, speeches, and interviews given by Dr. Hooks over the course of his career as Executive Director of the NAACP and pastor of Greater Mt. Moriah Church in Detroit, Michigan.  These recordings give the listener access to Dr. Hooks in his own words about topics he felt passionately about, such as the crisis of the black family, the role of the church in society, and the pressing political issues of the 1980s and 1990s.  There are also sermons and speeches of other individuals important to the church and the NAACP, such as Frances Hooks, Tom Diamond, and C.A. Clark.  Some of the audiocassettes are mass produced commercial products concerning the black church or black history that we will not digitize.  However, the speeches, sermons, and interviews given by Dr. Hooks are some of the most valuable aspects of the collection and will be made available to the public in digital form.  There are also many video cassettes in the collection that while valuable, exceed the recording capacities of this project.  

The collection does contain many folders of minimal research value such as call logs, calendars, and editions of The Crisis magazine available in circulation and in digital format on the official NAACP website.  Still, it is a historically rich collection that would provide excellent context and content to professional and amateur historians interested in the history of Memphis, the NAACP, the Hooks family, and more general African-American history.  We anticipate that many researchers will use the collection to further the study of Civil Rights that Dr. Hooks dedicated so much of his life to defending.

December Hours

The University Libraries will be open from December 12-December 22, Monday-Friday 8AM to 5PM. On December 13th the Libraries will close at 3PM for a staff event. The Libraries will be closed from Friday December 23-Monday January 2 and will reopen Tuesday, January 3 at 8AM.

For more information visit the library hours page on the University Libraries website.

April & May at the Libraries

Dean Sylverna V. Ford

Dr. Sylverna Ford was awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Award! The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Award was presented to Dr. Sylverna V. Ford, Monday, April 4. Dr. Ford is Dean to the UofM Libraries, a position she has held since 2000. She oversees the main library and three branch libraries.

Carrolet Thomas
Carrolet Thomas

Kicking off the celebration of National Poetry Month at the Libraries, local poet and UofM Alumni Carrolet Thomas will read from her book, Aspiring to be Read, Thursday, April 21, at 2:00 pm in the McWherter Library rotunda. Carrolet Thomas has been featured in The Commercial Appeal, appeared on Fox 13’s Good Morning Memphis, and presented her poetry at The National Civil Right’s Museum.

The Libraries will round out this year’s National Poetry Month with a group poetry reading, Monday, April 25, at 2:00 pm in McWherter Library, Room 226. This event will feature poetry by UofM visiting poetry professor Dr. Richard Boada, librarian and MFA candidate Ashley Roach-Freiman, and other poetry writers from the MFA in Creative Writing workshop. Dr. Richard Boada is the author of The Error of Nostalgia and the chapbook Archipelago Sinking, both nominated for Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Awards.  He is a graduate of the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, and won the University of Louisville’s Sara-Jean McDowell Award for Creative Writing. Recent work appears in The North American Review, RHINO, Crab Orchard Review, Yalobusha Review, Jabberwock Review, and The Louisville Review among others. Ashley Roach-Freiman is a librarian and MFA candidate at the University of Memphis where she was formerly Managing Editor of the Pinch Journal. She has poems appearing or forthcoming in Bone Bouquet, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Smartish Pace, The Literary Review, and Superstition Review. She coordinates and hosts the Impossible Language reading series in Memphis, TN.

DSC00903UofM faculty share their accomplishments of the previous year with students and peers! Monday, April 25 through Friday, April 29, the Libraries will host the 2016 Faculty Scholarship Week Exhibition which will be on display in the McWherter Library rotunda. All departments on campus are invited to participate. The exhibition will include journals, books, awards, works, and more.

paw-prints-colorful-backgroundStress Less during Exam Week with Puppies, Candy and Coloring at the Libraries! Monday, May 2, through Thursday, May 5, various stress relieving activities will be available to students at McWherter Library in appreciation of their hard work during exam week. Monday, May 2, a Mid-South Therapy Dog team will visit the first floor Fishbowl from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Adult coloring pages and markers, as well as sweet treats and other small pick-me-ups, will be available all week in the rotunda.


What’s New in 2016?


Ongoing Display: Black, White & Read

Memphis-Massacre-1866-Poster-Small-(Edited)On display on the first and fourth floors of McWherter Library through May, the “Black, White & Read: Reporting the 1866 Memphis Massacre” exhibition, as part of Black History Month and the Memories of a Massacre: Memphis in 1866 Project, commemorates the150th anniversary of this event in African-American history.

To learn more about this historical event, visit the Memphis Massacre of 1866 Research Guide.



March: Women’s History Month

2016posterWomen’s History Month at the Libraries will begin with a “Feminist Issues in the News” Panel Discussion, Monday, February 29 at 7:00 p.m. in McWherter Library, room 226. Drs. Amanda Nell Edgar (Communication), Virginia Solomon (Art), Robert Boyd (Journalism), Susan Nordstrom (CEPR), and Ms. Elle Perry will facilitate a discussion about feminist issues (e.g., gender, ability, sexual, racial, economic, environmental, neo-colonialist, body, and age) in the day’s New York Times.

This event coincides with an ongoing display, “Feminist Sculpture for Strolling,” a papier-mâché spherical sculpture which is a part of the Art Museum of the University of Memphis’ Disassembling Statements => Assembling Solidarity project which seeks to disassemble the daily acts of gender, sexual, racial, class, environmental, body, and age inequalities presented in newspapers and reassemble them as a spherical sculpture. Everyone is encouraged to bring newspaper articles concerning any and all feminist issues and drop them off at the display in the center of McWherter Library’ rotunda. A representative will paste the articles on the sculpture each Wednesday from noon – 1:30 p.m. The finished sculpture will be displayed at the Women’s History Month Closing Ceremony, April 1 at 12:30 p.m.

Women’s History Month at the Libraries will close with two events. The first will be a book reading and signing of Down Home Blues by Phyllis Dixon, Tuesday, March 22 at 2:00 p.m. in McWherter Library, room 226.

Frances Dancy Hooks
Frances Dancy Hooks (1928 – 2016)

The second event will be “The Life of Frances Hooks,” an honorarium and lecture by Will Love, Library Assistant and staff of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, Wednesday, March 23 at 3:00 p.m. in McWherter Library, room 226. Born and raised in Memphis, Frances Dancy Hooks was a well-known educator and wife of NAACP executive director Benjamin Hooks. Through her work with the NAACP and other organizations, Mrs. Hooks influenced the trajectory of initiatives involving education, poverty, and women’s rights here in Memphis and throughout the nation. This presentation will focus on her life as a teacher, activist, and church member, demonstrating how her work at the intersection of African-American and women’s civil rights greatly influenced modern women’s history.

Visit the Women’s History Month 2016 Calendar of Events for a full list of events on campus. #UMemWomen



New Technology Available to Check Out

Picture1The Libraries now offer Leap motion tracking sensors and Eye Tribe eye tracking sensors for check out at the McWherter Library circulation desk. The Leap Motion sensor is analogous to a mouse; it plugs into the USB port and allows you to use your hands and fingers to interact with a computer application as a kind of touch-less mouse. The Eye Tribe sensor allows you to use your eyes to operate a web-browser. To learn more, visit the Sensors Research Guide.


Technology Training

The Libraries offers 3D printing, web design, and soldering workshops. Visit the technology tab on the Libraries’ homepage to see a full schedule of workshops.