*Civil rights leader Dr. Benjamin Lawson Hooks, former Executive Director and CEO Emeritus of the National Association of Colored People, died at his home on Thursday following a long illness. He was 85.

Born Jan. 31, 1925 in Memphis, Hooks graduated from Howard University in 1944 and then joined the army shortly thereafter where he earned the rank of staff sergeant. After completing his army duty, he enrolled in DePaul University College of Law after no Tennessee law school would admit him. Upon receiving his law degree, Hooks returned to Memphis to practice law and he joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In 1965 he became Tennessee’s first black criminal court judge and in 1972 Richard Nixon appointed him to be one of the five commissioners of the FCC. On November 6, 1976, the NAACP Board of Directors elected Hooks as executive director where he served until 1992.

“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.

Also a Baptist minister, Hooks headed two churches.

“He was a courageous and committed preacher of the Word who, as chairman of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, insisted that our nation acknowledge and respect the dignity of all Americans regardless of race and ethnicity, as well as gender and sexual orientation,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “He was a great organizer, communicator, and mentor to legions of young leaders who continue to define our nation today. He was simply the greatest living person to have served as Executive Director and CEO of the NAACP. We will miss him dearly”

Dr. Hooks spoke the following words at the NAACP’s Centennial Convention in New York last July: “Let’s fight on until justice runs down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream. Let’s fight on until there is no down-sizing, until there is no glass ceiling. Let’s fight on until God shall gather the four winds of heaven; until the angel shall plant one foot on the sea and the other on dry land and declare that the time that has been will be no more. Fight on, until the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Fight on, until justice, righteousness, hopes equality and opportunity is the birthright of all Americans.”

Below: Dr. Benjamin Hooks delivered the speech “Civil Rights and Social Justice: Past, Present and the Future” just two months ago at The Hooks Institute at the University of Memphis (Feb 19, 2010).