Benjamin L. Hooks, a champion of minorities and the poor who increased the NAACP's stature as its executive director, died Thursday. He was 85.
State Rep. Ulysses Jones, a member of the church where Hooks was pastor, said Hooks died at his home in Memphis following a long illness.
Hooks became executive director of the NAACP in 1977, taking over a group that was $1 million in debt and had shrunk to 200,000 members from nearly a half-million in the 1950s and 1960s. He pledged to increase enrollment and raise money for the organization.
"Black Americans are not defeated," he told Ebony magazine soon after his induction. "The civil rights movement is not dead. If anyone thinks that we are going to stop agitating, they had better think again. If anyone thinks that we are going to stop litigating, they had better close the courts. If anyone thinks that we are not going to demonstrate and protest, they had better roll up the sidewalks."
By the time he left as executive director in 1992, the group had rebounded, with membership growing by several hundred thousand. To make that happen, he created community radiothons to make the public more aware of activities by local NAACP branches and boost membership.