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Benjamin Hooks, first black commissioner of FCC and NAACP leader, dies
Richard Prince Journal-ims
(April 15, 2010) The Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, who in addition to serving
for 15 years as director of the NAACP was the first African American
member of the Federal Communications Commission, died Thursday, April 15
in his Memphis hometown, the Commercial Appeal reported. He was 85 and
"had long suffered from various illnesses," the paper said.
"Black people were bereft of representation in the media," Hooks told
the Memphis newspaper in 2004, speaking of his tenure on the FCC board.
"At the FCC, they knew things were wrong," Hooks said. "There just
hadn't been anything done about it." (Credit: Museum of Broadcast
Communications)In 1972 not a single TV station in the country was owned
by a black person and only 13 radio stations. People don't realize how
powerful the regulatory agencies are. They have the power to make real
social change. When I was with the FCC [it] was a time of great change
and significance. The country was beginning to recognize that black
people had a right to employment in broadcasting, and we had to make
sure that the top jobs would be available to them."
When Hooks left in 1978, there were more than 200 black-owned stations
of the 7,000 in the nation.
"He was my role model," Tyrone Brown, who succeeded Hooks and became the
second African American on the FCC, told Journal-isms, "in terms of the
major issues and in how to try to bring people together politically. Ben
was a Republican — people forget that. . . . But he addressed issues not
as a flag waver but to try to move the ball a few yards on each play."
The FCC chairman who served with Hooks, Richard E. Wiley, echoed that.
"He and I hit it off great," Wiley, a Republican, told Journal-isms. "We
were of different parties and different races and we agreed on most
things. He was very responsible and very careful." And, added Wiley,
who became friends with Hooks and his wife of 50 years, Frances, "if you
saw him preach, you'd begin to believe what he believed. He was a real
firebrand in the pulpit."
A look at Hooks' five years at the agency illuminates how little the
intervening decades have affected the issue of radio and television
A 2007 study by the media advocacy group Free Press found that while
people of color comprise 34 percent of the U.S. population,
they own just 3.15 percent of television stations. Women make up 51
percent of the population, but own just 5.87 percent of television
Yet those changes in technology are a boon to people of color in a way
that the advent of radio and television have not been, Brown said.
"That's one of the reasons why the Internet is very important, because
in order to develop a service, you don't have to bring . . . hordes of
dollars in order to play, you just have to bring new ideas. You will be
surprised at the number of young African Americans, Latino Americans,
Asian Americans who are getting ownership in that arena."
As recently as December, Hooks recognized the Internet's power in an
opinion piece in the Commercial Appeal: "Here's the problem the FCC must
address: Millions of Americans cannot afford high-speed service or
worse, cannot even access it," he wrote.
And Reed Hundt, another former FCC commissioner, disclosed last month
that the FCC had tilted its policies toward the Internet, at the expense
of television, because the Internet was "certain to be diverse in every
conceivable respect and not by dint of regulation — diverse, meaning it
would be in every language and every race would be welcome and the
content would be . . . generated by people who . . . would choose any
points of view; and any kind of ownership of the content would be
admissible and any form of ownership of the content would be possible."
In his five years on the FCC, Hooks also addressed the minority
employment statistics for the broadcasting industry, and the image of
blacks in the mass media. He also helped to increase the number of
African American lawyers at the FCC from three to 150, the Voice of
"At the FCC, they knew things were wrong. There just hadn't been
anything done about it. And there was more willingness to change than
people would have thought," Hooks said.
Hooks was a first, and even his waiting room signaled change, as
columnist Askia Muhammad wrote in the Washington Informer in 2008. "In
an interview, Dr. Hooks told me he always kept copies of Muhammad Speaks
in his office waiting room so that everyone who came in could see that
his eyes were open to a variety of opinions and perspectives," the
Hooks supported some policies that have since been reversed or gone out
of fashion: The "fairness doctrine" that required equal time for
opposing views, regulation of broadcast ownership and enforcement of
prohibitions against foul language on the air, for example.
In 2001, he said media companies were not as dominant during his tenure
because ownership was limited to seven TV stations and 14 radio
stations. "I believe that rule was better for everybody," he said to
Hooks was on a commission that voted unanimously to deem inappropriate
for airing from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. what became known as the "seven dirty
As NAACP director, Mr. Hooks told the Washington Times in 1991 that
there was a relationship between images conveyed in popular culture and
the decline of values, Ronald A. Taylor reported then.
"When we step back far enough to see where we are in our society, this
is a violent society," Hooks said. "But white people have been moving
away from some of that violence, and I think we [blacks] are going
through a phase now. I must confess that I do not have all of the
answers I would like to have."
"But, he said, he believes the solution may lie in a return to the kind
of family values," Taylor wrote, "the conventional nuclear family
structure with gainfully employed parents — expressed in what he
described as the 'Southern Baptist morality.'"
Hooks continued to monitor the media as NAACP director. In 1982, the New
York Times reported that "Blacks and members of other minority groups
trying to get jobs in the film industry will receive a helping hand from
Walt Disney Productions, which announced a series of actions to be taken
after 10 months of talks with the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People."
Hooks was born in 1925 into what he described as "sort of a militant
family," Tommy Perkins wrote in the Memphis Business Journal in 2002.
"He was the first black judge in the South since Reconstruction, serving
first as a Shelby County Criminal Court judge in the 1960s and later on
the Special Supreme Court. He was the first black person appointed to
the Federal Communications Commission, of which he was later
He added, "Hooks says he passed up an opportunity to be the FCC's
chairman in 1977 to lead the NAACP out of financial turmoil after its
boycott of businesses in a Mississippi town led to a massive recovery
judgment against the organization."
In his first news conference at the NAACP, he kidded the television
reporters, saying, "In a sense I move from being your supervisor to
depending on you."
Annual Edition 'Buying Power of Black America' report
breaks down billions in expenditures (January
19, 2010) Black consumers are responding to tighter economic
condition by focusing more of their spending on items and services
that improve their homes and lifestyle. That's one of the trends
revealed in the 15th annual report, "The Buying Power of Black
America," published by Target Market News. The report analyzes
spending for black households in 2008 and finds that