Hooks tells blacks to recognize progress Former NAACP director is King memorial speaker

January 16, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Calling upon the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the retired executive director of the NAACP yesterday urged blacks not to forget the progress they have made since King's death while continuing their fight to make his dreams become reality.

"I am so sick and tired of hearing our people say we're not better off than we used to be," the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks told a crowd of more than 1,300 at Martin's West. "We must be able to recognize our progress while seeing how far we still have to go."

Hooks spoke at the 23rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast, marking the anniversary of the slain civil rights leader's birth. The breakfast was sponsored by the YMCA of Central Maryland and the King's Landing Women's Service Club, which was founded to raise money for what was at that time a segregated YMCA camp.

Recalling a speech that King made in Memphis the night before he was killed, Hooks said that King warned of "dark and difficult days ahead."

"I was sitting there as a judge, and we had black members of the state Legislature and City Council, and we didn't see how difficult times could be ahead," said Hooks, who was the first black judge in the South since Reconstruction. "As I look back, I think maybe God in a special way let King look back and look forward.

"These 30 years, everybody here can testify to the difficult times. He was surely and truly a prophet," Hooks said.

More progress must be made, and affirmative action should not be abandoned, said Hooks, who led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1977 until 1993. Hooks lives in Memphis and is senior vice president of the Chapman Co., a minority-controlled investment banking firm.

"There are racists who stand up on their bad legs and try to pretend that Dr. King would be opposed to affirmative action," Hooks said. "How silly, how stupid can you be?"

Yesterday's speech was something of a memorial breakfast homecoming for Hooks. He was the keynote speaker at the first breakfast, said Marjorie Green, chairwoman of the breakfast steering committee.

"Ever since he spoke, every year we've been expected to come up with another Ben Hooks to speak and inspire us," Green said. "This year, we were honored that he would come back."

Green said the goal of the breakfast is to remember King and "reach out to all races and all people to work together."

Last year's keynote speaker was Julian Bond, founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and a longtime Georgia state legislator who teaches civil rights history.

State and local politicians attended yesterday's breakfast, including Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and the county executives of Baltimore and Howard counties.

Hooks singled out Schmoke for praise, describing him as "one of the great men of this age."

"Baltimore had been a citadel of segregation, and today it is presided over by a black mayor," Hooks said.

Hooks also criticized members of the U.S. Supreme Court, including Justice Clarence Thomas.

"Look at the Supreme Court, which used to be the anchor of hope and stability," Hooks said. "Now, if you put the brains of the Supreme Court into a bird, that bird would fly backward forever."

Pub Date: 1/16/98

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