Benjamin Hooks, Civil Rights Icon, Has Died

President Bush, right, presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Civil Rights pioneer Benjamin H i i

President George W. Bush awarded Hooks the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. (Gerald Herbert/AP) hide caption

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President Bush, right, presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Civil Rights pioneer Benjamin H

President George W. Bush awarded Hooks the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

"Benjamin Lawson Hooks, an outspoken advocate of rights of black citizens from his days as a Memphis lawyer and judge to his national leadership of the NAACP, died early this morning after an illness," The Commercial Appeal reports from Memphis. He was 85.

As WREG-TV in Memphis says, Hooks was not only executive director of the NAACP from 1977 to 1993, he was also the first African-American commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (he served during the Nixon administration).

In 1996, the University of Memphis founded The Hooks Institute "to support racial, social, and economic justice for communities in need."

As the institute's bio of Hooks reminds us:

"On November 5, 2007, President George W. Bush awarded Dr. Benjamin. L. Hooks the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award, for a lifetime of public service. Dr. Hooks' lifetime of public service originated from his extended family's tradition of a love for education, family values, and helping others."

Update at 3:35 p.m. ET. On NPR's Talk of the Nation this afternoon, another former NAACP chairman — Julian Bond — remembered his friend.

Hooks, said Bond, was "one of the giants of the (civil rights) movement":

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Bond and historian Clayborne Carson were on TOTN to talk about a movement that helped changed the nation — the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that Bond and others at Shaw University founded on April 17, 1960. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, host Neal Conan's conversation with Bond will be posted here.

Update at 8:20 a.m. ET. The Associated Press is now writing that:

"Benjamin L. Hooks, a champion of minorities and the poor whose longtime tenure as executive director of the NAACP included leading his organization through a deadly firebombing campaign that targeted his group, has died. He was 85.

"State Rep. Ulysses Jones, a family friend, said Hooks died early Thursday."

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