The Legacy of Civil Rights Leader Frances Dancy Hooks '49

HooksFrances Dancy Hooks, longtime civil rights activist and widow of Dr. Benjamin L Hooks, died Thursday, January 14, 2016.  Mrs. Hooks, 88, leaves behind a legacy of activism devoted to improving education, race relations and women's rights in Memphis and across the nation.

A graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, Mrs. Hooks earned a bachelor's degree from Fisk University in Nashville and a master's degree from Tennessee State University. Mrs. Hooks began her 24-year career as an educator in Memphis but later served as secretary and adviser to her husband Ben, whom she called "the Catch of Memphis."  

"So many people think of her husband, Dr. Ben Hooks, but she was such a person of incredible competence in her own right," said Jean Varnell, a friend of nearly 50 years. "They were such a team together."

Ben Hooks, who died in 2010, was the first African-American commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission and later served as executive director of the NAACP from 1977-92. Mrs. Hooks was co-founder of Women in the NAACP (WIN), a program which addresses civil rights issues affecting women and children.

"Mrs. Hooks was the love of Dr. Benjamin Hooks' life and the affection was mutual," Congressman Steve Cohen said in a press release. "She looked after him and was the perfect spouse, First Lady of the NAACP and Greater Middle Baptist Church, civil rights leader, and citizen of Memphis."

Varnell worked alongside Mrs. Hooks on various projects throughout the years and described her as a woman full of "spirit and spunk."  "She had such a passion for helping women and children meet their full potential," Varnell said.

In the late 1960s, Mrs. Hooks co-founded the Memphis Volunteer Placement Program, which helped black students apply for financial aid for college, complete college applications and explore career options. "They were able to send kids who wouldn't have been able to go to college all over the United States," her daughter, Patricia Hooks Gray said. Today the program is known as Reach Memphis or the Memphis Prep Program.  "My mom was a shaker in her own right," her daughter said. "She just was somebody that believed that things could get done if you tried."

Mrs. Hooks was also a founding member of the Women's Foundation of Greater Memphis.The foundation's executive director, Ruby Bright, described Mrs. Hooks as a powerful leader with a big heart.  

"Frances used her dynamics of influence, but she didn't have to be the person at the podium," Bright said. "When you saw Frances whispering in someone's ear at a meeting or community event, you knew she was taking care of some important business that was going to impact the purpose of that meeting."

Mrs. Hooks is survived by her daughter, two grandsons and great-grandsons. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Alzheimer's Association or the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change.

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