Meeting Looks at Human, Civil Rights -- Hooks Institute Conference Ponders Activism in 2012

By Lollar, Michael | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), April 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Meeting Looks at Human, Civil Rights -- Hooks Institute Conference Ponders Activism in 2012


Lollar, Michael, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond calls the state of civil rights in 2012 a "day by day phenomenon."

Daphene McFerren, executive director of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change, compares it to a diet. "It's just like weight loss. You've got to keep at it. It's like a maintenance plan."

The latest step in the plan opens Wednesday with the Hooks Institute's annual conference on civil and human rights, "Toward a More Perfect Union: Civil Rights, Human Rights and Creating a New Age of Social Responsibility."

The three-day conference, most of it in the Michael Rose Theatre at the University of Memphis, looks at civil rights activism and human rights in a global economy, and as part of a tenuous balance that can be thrown off kilter by a single act.

The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black Florida teenager, was like "removing a scab from a wound that never healed," said McFerren. "It's very clear that race in America remains very material to life in America."

And, because of globalization, life in America can affect life in any other part of the world. "We realize there is a shared responsibility to ensure the economy functions," says Kevin Cassidy, head of external relations for the International Labour Organization of the United Nations. Cassidy will talk at 5 p.m. Wednesday about "The Quest for Social Justice."

The free conference is named for Hooks, who worked as a child in his father's photography studio on Beale Street. He attended LeMoyne- Owen College and Howard University in Washington . To become a lawyer, he had to leave the South, earning his law degree at DePaul University in Chicago.

When Hooks returned to Memphis in 1949, he was one of only two black lawyers in a city where he couldn't join the bar association, use the library or use the restroom that other lawyers used. He was appointed an assistant public defender, then was appointed as a Criminal Court judge.

Hooks, who died at 85 in 2010, overcame a fear of public speaking to become minister of Greater Middle Baptist Church in Memphis and Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit. During the civil rights movement, he served as a board member to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1972, he was named the first black member of the Federal Communications Commission and, in 1977, became national executive director of the NAACP.

Bond, founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and chairman emeritus of the NAACP board, will be keynote speaker for the conference. He said Hooks "devoted all of his professional life in one way or another to fighting for civil rights. …

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