When Benjamin L. Hooks became executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1977, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and civil rights organizations had a generally sympathetic reception in the White House and Washington.
But most of Mr. Hooks' tenure as one of the nation's most prominent advocates for the African-American community has been consumed by problems he could not have anticipated. The advent of the Reagan and Bush administrations, the increasingly conservative tone of the Supreme Court and the heightened importance of economic issues changed the nature of the game and the demands on black leaders.
As the premier organization in the civil rights movement, the NAACP remains the solid rock of stability in an evolving struggle. Other groups rely heavily on the charisma of a single leader, while the NAACP represents continuity going back eight decades, when minority rights were so novel in our society that a major impetus in its creation came from a handful of concerned whites. The challenge that faced Mr. Hooks during most of his tenure, and will face his successor when he retires later this year, was whether the rock of stability needed to be remolded.