Sunday, April 18, 2010

DePaul Remembers Law Alum Benjamin Hooks

DePaul Law School Remembers Alumnus And Former NAACP Head, Benjamin Hooks
Benjamin L. Hooks, who graduated from theDePaul University College of Law in 1948, grew up in an America marked by racism and injustice. Determined to change it, he spent his life fighting for equality.  A highly respected champion of civil rights and one of the College of Law’s outstanding alumni, Hooks died April 15 in Memphis, Tenn.Though his work would take him back to Tennessee and later to Washington, D.C.,  Hooks remained connected to the College of Law throughout his lifetime.  The law school honored his outstanding service to the field of public interest law in 2003, and he earned an honorary degree at the law school’s 1977 commencement ceremony.  Recognition for a career and achievements that defied the odds.

According to his official biography provided by the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of  Memphis, Hooks first began his study of jurisprudence by enrolling in a pre-law course at LeMyone College in Memphis.  He joined the United States Army before completing his studies and was stationed overseas.  This experience made him determined to champion the cause of civil rights when he found himself charged with guarding Italian prisoners who were allowed to eat in restaurants that would deny him service. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant before his tour of duty ended and returned state side to complete his undergraduate studies at Howard University.

With a desire to become an attorney, Hooks returned to Tennessee. However, what he experienced upon moving back to Memphis was the true meaning of bigotry in the South. No law school in his native state of Tennessee would admit him. So Hooks moved north to attend law school at DePaul University.

“DePaul gave him an opportunity to go to law school when others would not admit him because of his race,” said College of Law Professor Bruce Ottley.  Ottley knew Hooks and had the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with him over dinner during one of Hooks’ visits to Chicago and the College of Law.  “He was qualified and his G.I. Bill would pay his tuition so his race really did not matter to DePaul.

After earning his law degree in 1948, Hooks went back to Memphis and embarked on a storied legal career that would earn him a place among of our nation’s most celebrated civil rights advocates. 

“Benjamin Hooks was a true role model who lived a life that illustrates for our students what they can accomplish no matter what obstacles try and stop them,” said Ottley.  “People can look at graduates like Hooks and know that no matter what your background, you can still achieve whatever you want if you get a good education.”

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