Last chance to check out the “Who Run the World: Women in Government” Exhibit in the lobby of McWherter Library!
The Ned McWherter Library FSW coordinators invite innovative and invested faculty and graduate students to participate in the inaugural NEDtalks through short, informative, entertaining presentations!
- Faculty and graduate students to engage curiosity with brief multidisciplinary talks
- 15 minutes or fewer, multimedia is talker’s choice
- April 19 & 20 from 3pm to 5pm at Ned McWherter Library
- Join us through Google Forms
Need more information? Contact Anna Swearengen.
Join our event on Facebook!
Archivists have two primary responsibilities as regards the collections they are responsible for: 1) the materials should be preserved for as long as possible and, 2) they should be made accessible to researchers. There is always a tension between these responsibilities because the latter impacts the former. When a collection is particularly important, usage by researchers goes up which also results in increased wear and tear on the documents in that collection. An example is the Church family papers in the Preservation and Special Collections Department. Robert Reed Church, Sr., Robert R. Church, Jr., and Sara Roberta Church were three generations of one of the most prominent African American families in Memphis. Robert Church, Sr., was a successful entrepreneur who owned businesses including a bank and an auditorium, and was known as the first black millionaire in the South. He was also a supporter of the Republican Party in which his son, Robert, Jr., became an important figure at both the state and national levels. Robert, Jr., started the Lincoln League and was active in founding the local branch of the NAACP in 1917. He advised several presidents and was a frequent visitor to the White House but his influence waned locally in the 1940s when he came into conflict with “Boss” E.H. Crump. Robert’s daughter, Roberta, carried on the family tradition of civic involvement and served in Washington, D.C. under Dwight Eisenhower and subsequent administrations in the Department of Labor and then the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She began donating her family’s papers to the university in 1976 and continued to add to the collection for the next twenty years.
The collection includes correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs, published material and artifacts and has been used extensively by scholars including Elizabeth Gritter for River of Hope and Preston Lauterbach for Beale Street Dynasty. However, by 2016 the oldest documents in the collection were starting to fall to pieces and the collection was closed until funds could be found to rehouse them in archival grade plastic sleeves. An application for funding through the Direct Grant program of the Tennessee State Library and Archives was successful and Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett visited the university in January to present a check to the library. This money combined with additional funding allocated by the Dean of Libraries, Dr. Sylverna Ford, will enable much of the oldest material in the collection to be preserved and allow researchers to mine this rich resource once again.
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: 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.