NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- With lighthearted jokes, shouts of anger and tears of pride, the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks said goodbye to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last night.
In his final official keynote address as executive director of the civil rights organization -- a speech that was interrupted several times by rousing standing ovations -- Dr. Hooks made it clear that his leadership has been steadfast and honest, that the news media must stop portraying blacks as criminals, junkies and prostitutes, and that the NAACP has not lost its energy and influence.
"I know you would like us to be asleep," Dr. Hooks said to the news media gathered in front of the stage. "But we have taken anti-sleeping pills and we're not going to go to sleep."
Admitting that there were many programs that he has been unable to start during his 15 years at the helm of the organization, Dr. Hooks said: "You must remember, I didn't serve under President Lyndon Johnson or John F. Kennedy. I served under Ronald Reagan."
He said he had written a letter to President Bush asking him to appoint a non-partisan commission to study the problems of inner cities and develop innovative solutions.
"We shall wait for an answer from President Bush because something needs to be done and it needs to be done now," he said.
Dr. Hooks devoted a lot of time, as he has throughout the last few days of this annual convention, speaking about recent achievements of the civil rights organization. He said the its main problem is not that the NAACP is out of touch with its constituents, but that blacks are out of touch with the NAACP.
"If there has been one glaring disappointment over this last decade and a half, it has been that the magnificent accomplishments of the NAACP have not been widely publicized," he said earlier in the day at a news conference.
Born in Memphis, Dr. Hooks, 67, said he felt lucky to come home to Tennessee for his last official convention.
Before he took over the NAACP leadership in 1977, Dr. Hooks was an ordained minister, co-founder of a savings and loan, and the assistant public defender in Tennessee. In 1972, he was appointed by President Richard M. Nixon to the Federal Communications Commission, and he served as its first black member for five years.
In his work with the civil rights organization, Dr. Hooks continues to see the glass half full.
"The NAACP is strong, vibrant and alive," he shouted from the podium earlier yesterday, his voice echoing through the main ballroom. "People may lie on us. But we're still here and we will always be here."
Asked to name his most rewarding accomplishment as executive director, Dr. Hooks said: "I'm like a proud father with 15 children. I can't name one above the others."
But in last night's speech, Dr. Hooks listed among his proudest achievements: securing the votes in Congress to override President Reagan's veto of economic sanctions against South Africa; a national holiday celebrating the birth of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; lobbying for the passage of the 1991 Civil Rights Act; and fair-share agreements that have been negotiated with more than 60 corporations and have resulted in $45 billion for black-owned small businesses.
Throughout his tenure, Dr. Hooks said he has spoken to thousands of black people between 22 and 40 to find out about their concerns and to develop programs to help ease their professional and personal lives.
"I don't know any of their concerns that we haven't addressed," he said at the news conference. "But the question is, how do we get them involved?"