Dynamic speakers to highlight dedication ceremony, NAACP banquet

By Jen Bland

Two dynamic speakers will be addressing the NIU community today as part of the King Memorial Commons dedication. They are Benjamin Hooks and Elaine Jones.

Hooks and his wife Frances also will be honored at the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP) banquet at 7 p.m. in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the Holmes Student Center.

Richard Baker, co-chair of the commons dedication committee, will be presenting them with an award for a combined 22 years of dedication and service to the civil rights movement.

Baker said it is important to honor both Benjamin and Frances because although he may be in the spotlight more, she has been his assistant. If she is inoperative, so is he.

Benjamin Hooks also will give a lecture on civil rights at 3:30 p.m. at the new Center for Black Studies. Baker said this is an opportunity for students to ask him questions, “but if students plan to attend, it’s important that they call the Center first to confirm their attendance.”

Hooks has always been at the forefront of the civil rights movement and is recently retired from his appointment as Executive Director of the NAACP.

“We believe that we (blacks) have been here too long, fought, died, suffered, got beaten and made too many contributions in blood and sweat and toil for us to jump ship now that America is entering into a new phase of greatness,” stated Hooks in an article that appeared in Ebony magazine.

He has been a strong force behind motivating the African-American youth to get involved with the civil rights movement. Baker said Hooks often travels to colleges to mobilize the African-American youth.

Baker said people want to believe the actions taken in the 1960s were all that was needed in the civil rights movement, but the problems are ongoing.

In the Ebony article, Benjamin points out that civil rights bills similar to recent ones were passed in the 1870’s. He also warns that all these bills were nullified in a period of 20 years. “Now … they (the Supreme Court) are doing precisely the same thing,” he said.

He cited a major difference between the youth of his generation and today. “Young people today haven’t really known what down had segregation was.”

But, it doesn’t take millions to get a job done. Hooks says revolutions have always involved a rather small number of people.

“So I don’t have any great fear because we don’t have the present young generation jumping out of the water like spawning salmon,” he added. “We still have about the same percentage of young people who are concerned.”

Baker said Hooks has truly made a difference in the civil rights arena. “He’s a very dynamic leader who has seen hands-on results,” Baker said.

Under the Hooks’ leadership the NAACP instituted programs to assist minorities in education, employment, youth programs and prison reform. He led the 1979 prayer vigil in Washington, D.C. protesting an anti-busing amendment.

In 1965, he was appointed as the first African-American judge in the South since the Reconstruction era.

He founded the Mutual Federal Savings and Loan Association and served as vice-president of organizations including the League of Women Voters, the Legal Aid Society and the Council on Foreign Relations.

The other featured speaker, Elaine Jones, is equally remarkable. Jones was the first African-American woman to be the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund founded in 1940 by Thurgood Marshall. She also was the first African-American woman to graduate from the University of Virginia School of Law.

Jones will also speak on behalf of Hooks at the honorary banquet. Baker described Jones as “very powerful.” “She knows what she’s doing and she’s dedicated and influential.”

For 20 years, Jones has been a litigator and civil rights activist. She has played a role in issues such as fighting discrimination in court, promoting voting rights and fair housing.

In 1972, she worked on the Freeman v. Georgia case that abolished the death penalty in 37 states. She was also one of the first African-American women to defend death row inmates.

Some bills she was instrumental in implicating are the Rights Restoration Act, the 1988 Fair Housing Act, the 1982 Voting Rights Act and the Civil Service Reform Act.

In an Ebony article Jones said, “From early childhood I have always known that the struggle for equality would be my life.”