A Legendary Civil Rights Icon has Left the Stage; Yet, “The Struggle Continues”

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Civil Rights Leader Benjamin L. Hooks’ legacy will take its rightful place in the annals of history.


By Juanita Bratcher


It’s a quote synonymous to the Civil Rights Movement: “The Struggle Continues.” So is the song, “We Shall Overcome.”


And over the years, as a news reporter covering a myriad of events and rallies on various issues, I’ve heard the quote time and time again, used as a sounding board to rally and fire-up the troops. Sometimes it was used by speaker or speakers at the beginning of speech, but more often used at the end of speech.

In essence, the quote was used by speakers as an admonishing connotation: “Don’t rest on your laurels, there is much more needed to be done. The battle hasn’t been won yet, regardless of what has already been accomplished. We have a long way to go.”

So when I read a quote attributed to the legendary Civil Rights Icon Benjamin L. Hooks, who died April 15, at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, after a long illness, “The Struggle Continues” resonated in my mind.

According to news reports, NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Todd Jealous recalled a speech Hooks gave last year.

“Right up to the last, he conveyed…the need for us to fight,” Jealous said.

Hooks was a trailblazer. He was a fighter for social justice and against bigotry. He took over the helm of the NAACP as its Executive Director in 1977 and served until 1992. He came to the civil rights organization during a declining membership. Under his tenure, he galvanized the membership, adding hundreds of thousands to its membership roll.

Hooks was one of the great communicators of the Civil Rights Movement; a champion for civil rights. He was a voice for many, and once served as President of the National Civil Rights Museum in his hometown Memphis. He was a lawyer; graduated from DePaul University in Chicago, after being declined by law schools in his native Tennessee. No law school there would admit him. After earning his law degree, he returned to Tennessee, passed the bar exam and set-up practice there. He was a Baptist minister, a warrior in fighting for the downtrodden. 

He was the first African-American judge to sit on the bench in Tennessee Criminal Court, appointed by Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement; the first African-American appointed to the Federal Communications Commission by President Richard Nixon, in 1972; and was awarded the “Presidential Medal of Freedom” by President George Bush in 2007, the highest U.S. civilian honor.

As a news reporter, I followed Hooks’ career over the years. But I got the pleasure of meeting him briefly in the 1980s, one-on-one, at a convention in Chicago where he was one of the keynote speakers.

When I realized he was on his way out of the Ballroom where the convention was in session, I hurried out the door to wait for him to come out to get an interview for the article I would be writing (No, it wasn’t stalking).

As he exited the Ballroom, I approached him, identified myself and the media organization I worked for – the historical Chicago Defender – a black newspaper, founded by the late Robert Abbott.

Hooks said he was running late for the airport, that he had an engagement in another state. He said, “Young lady, I’m on my way to the airport. I’m running late. But I tell you what, you can walk with me and get the interview. I walked alongside him, interviewing him as we waited for the elevator and continued on into the elevator. When I heard of his death last week, I thought of that encounter with him. I thought about his patience and consideration in giving me that interview even though he was trying to get to the airport on time. I am forever grateful.  

Hooks, born January 31, 1925 in Memphis, died at the age of 85. He left a great legacy of achievement. His endless efforts and energy to bring about justice and equality for African Americans and other minorities in this country will take their rightful place in the annals of history.

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