Being named the very first African-American FCC Commissioner is just one of the notable achievements in the life of Benjamin L. Hooks, who passed away 4/15/10 at the age of 85. He is perhaps better known as the longtime head of the NAACP.
He was appointed to the FCC by Richard Nixon in 1972, and was widely believed to have an inside track to the chairmanship upon the election of Jimmy Carter when the NAACP opportunity presented itself and proved irresistible.
Many in the Washington broadcasting community had words of remembrance to share.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “The nation lost a great leader today in the passing of civil rights champion and former FCC Commissioner Benjamin L. Hooks. His historic appointment as the first African-American Commissioner forever changed the FCC, reminding us of our mission to promote the interests of all Americans. During his five-year tenure at the FCC in the early 1970s, Mr. Hooks worked tirelessly to expand opportunities for minorities and the poor, communities that had long been without a strong voice at the agency or in the media landscape. He was a fierce advocate for minority broadcast ownership and increasing minority employment in the broadcast industry. His work did not stop there. Just last year, Mr. Hooks urged the FCC to remember that broadband access and adoption are essential to full civic participation in our society. Mr. Hooks’ legacy is a reminder there is still more that the FCC must do realize his vision of a communications landscape that represents the vibrant diversity of America.”
Said NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith, “As a dedicated civil rights leader and committed public servant, Commissioner Hooks had a tremendous and lasting impact on broadcast diversity during his tenure at the FCC. Broadcasters mourn the loss of a great American who was committed to equal opportunity in life and on the public airwaves.”
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps observed, “With the passing of Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, the Federal Communications Commission and the country at large have lost a true trailblazer. Dr. Hooks – a lawyer, a Baptist minister, a civil rights leader, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient – served as the FCC’s first African-American Commissioner from 1972 to 1977. Through his leadership, his conviction and his flair, he gave a voice to minorities and the poor. When he started at the FCC, not a single TV station in this country was owned by an African-American, and employment of minorities and women in broadcasting was at abysmally low levels. Dr. Hooks set out to change this, and change it he did. He was instrumental in providing opportunities to get broadcast licenses into the hand of minorities – including Howard University, which ran the first African-American-owned TV station – and in boosting minority employment in broadcasting from a meager 3 percent to 15 percent during his tenure. We need to re-commit ourselves to the work done by Dr. Hooks so many years ago – to endeavor for a robust, inclusive media landscape that truly reflects the rich cultural diversity of all our nation’s citizens.”
Added FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, “With the passing of Dr. Benjamin Hooks, the FCC and America have lost a true pioneer for minority rights. While at the FCC and during his years of service at the NAACP, Dr. Hooks broadened opportunities for minorities in the broadcast world. He set a great example of placing the long term public interest first, even though he was sometimes criticized by the very groups whose causes he championed. As a recipient of the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom and an ardent defender of the Constitution, Dr. Hooks once said that “even if it hurts sometimes, I’m a great believer in free speech and would never do to anything to tamper with it. My sympathies go out to his family and the many others he touched throughout his distinguished life of public service.”
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn stated, “For those who also place great value on public service, the life of Dr. Hooks will always be remembered as one dedicated to improving the lives of others and championing legal and economic justice. Before joining the FCC, Dr. Hooks served his country in the military, served as a public defender in Tennessee, worked with Justice Thurgood Marshall to develop legal strategies to end racial segregation and discrimination, worked in the broadcast industry, and served as a county criminal judge. After leaving the FCC in 1977, Dr. Hooks became the Executive Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served in that post until 1992. Even after leaving the NAACP, Dr. Hooks continued to fight for increased diversity in the entertainment industry. This lifetime of service was properly recognized, in 2007, when Dr. Hooks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the highest civilian awards our federal government can bestow.”