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Ben Hooks' message of peace and justice
was inseparable from the gospel of Christ

New York, April 16, 2010 -- The Rev. Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, an American Baptist minister who preached church unity and human harmony, was hailed Thursday as an eloquent leader whose life exemplified Christ's love of the poor and passion for justice.

The Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, General Secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, said, "Benjamin Hooks' outstanding leadership in the quest for equal rights in a segregated America reflected American Baptists' passion for justice as an integral part of Jesus' message of redemption.  We are deeply saddened at the passing of this giant but his achievements shall never fade from the consciousness of all who 'thirst for righteousness.'"

"Benjamin Hooks was unfailingly brilliant when he combined the finely-tuned logic of a lawyer with a preacher's evangelical persuasiveness to help people see you can't love God unless you love your sisters and brothers," said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches General Secretary.

Hooks, 85, an ordained minister, civil rights attorney, judge and retired executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, died April 15 after a long illness.

"He was essentially a renaissance man," Kinnamon said. "He was a leader of great faith and it was the church that captured his imagination and inspired him to be a great preacher, pastor, jurist, and human rights leader."

President Richard Nixon appointed Hooks as the first African American to serve on the Federal Communications Commission in 1972.

In his role at the FCC, Hooks became an ally to ecumenical communications leaders such as the Rev. Dr. Everett Parker, retired director of the United Church of Christ Office of Communication, and the Rev. Dr. William F. Fore, retired NCC associate general secretary for communication, in their common efforts to provide broadcast licenses for communities of color.

"He was one of the towering Baptist voices we sought as a keynoter at an American Baptist communication conference in Wisconsin in 1974," said Philip E. Jenks, NCC Media Relations Specialist, who directed the American Baptist Division of Communication that year. "I remember how he quoted Martin Luther King. Jr., and predicted 'dark and difficult days ahead' before the human rights picture in the U.S. would brighten."

Jenks said he and his youthful staff were hesitant to approach the famous commissioner after sessions, "but Hooks was extremely approachable and even joined us on off-campus excursions after hours. He was serious, compelling, inspiring and funny -- and when he left he didn't charge us a dime, explaining he was a government employee paid to meet the public."

Hooks appeared to be in line to chair the powerful FCC when President Jimmy Carter assumed office in 1977, but he decided to accept a call to head the NAACP instead. He succeeded Roy Wilkins and led the organization through a financial resurgence. He resigned in 1992.

His death Thursday prompted tributes from current and past NAACP leaders.

“The NAACP is deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks. Dr. Hooks led this organization to new heights, and we will continue to honor his legacy by fighting on, in his words with truth, justice and righteousness on our side,” stated NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock.

Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond said, "Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks was a dynamic NAACP CEO who lifted the organization and by force of personality gave it a heightened presence on the national scene. He performed my wedding ceremony to my wife Pam and was a stalwart advisor during my tenure as Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors. Dr. Hooks will be much missed."

NAACP Chairman Emeritus Myrlie Evers-Williams added: “I am deeply saddened by the loss of my personal friend and one of America’s most outstanding civil rights leaders Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks. Dr. Hooks was one of the strongest supporters of my husband Medgar Evers, and a strong supporter of mine during my three years as Chairman of the Board. He was a trusted advisor and never ceased to share his wisdom on pressing issues of the day."

President Obama said, "Our national life is richer for the time Dr. Hooks spent on this Earth.  And our union is more perfect for the way he spent it: giving a voice to the voiceless. Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his wife, Frances; his daughter, Patricia Gray; and all who knew Dr. Hooks through his extraordinary good works."

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell) , pjenks@ncccusa.org

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