Duty of the Hour
A Production of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis
The story of Benjamin Hooks is an exploration of this nation’s long, complex, and difficult history of race in America. However, and equally as important, the story of Hooks also highlights how our nation was, and can be, transformed by committed visionaries, like Hooks, who were determined to make every second of their lives count to fulfill their Duty of the Hour.
Are you making the seconds of your life count? The true measure of our lives is not determined by the number of years we live, but in the impact of those years in how we positively shape the lives of others and our communities. Julia Britton Hooks (1852-1942), Hooks’s grandmother, used the phrase “duty of the hour” to instruct her children and grandchildren to accept “responsibility” for fighting injustices or some other wrong they witnessed. Julia Hooks, “walked the life she taught” as a personal friend of and fellow civil rights activist of Ida Barnett Wells (1862 – 1931) who fiercely opposed the practice of lynching African Americans, which then triggered death threats forcing Wells to leave Memphis.
We hope that Duty of the Hour, a documentary that examines Benjamin L. Hooks’s rise from the streets of segregated Memphis to the national stage will encourage each of us to ask, “Am I making the seconds of my life count?” Are we reaching beyond the safe and routine activities of family and friends to build bridges to those of different racial and ethnic backgrounds; to our youth; to communities whose values or lifestyles seem unfamiliar to us; to people in need? Are we engaged in the civic affairs of our local, state, and national community? Whether we choose to live a private life, or a life on a larger stage, almost all of us can make a personal commitment to get involved with issues and people that shape our world.
As a minister, activist, father, husband, and friend of many, Dr. Hooks recognized that the span of one’s life is relatively a short of period of time when compared to passing decades and centuries that create the backdrop of history into which each of us is born. Nevertheless, he recognized that even in one lifetime, a life, or lives, dedicated to the right causes (in Hooks’s case, the advancement of civil rights) can change the face of history and a nation.
On January 31, 1925, Hooks was born in Memphis into a segregated world where his accomplishments as a civil rights activist and high-level governmental official (Hooks was the first African American to serve on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission) were simply unimaginable for an African American. However, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other civil rights activists of that period, Hooks was not bound by the constraints others felt applied to him because of his race; but rather the demeaning segregationist practices he experienced served as a call to action to Hooks to create a more inclusive nation. By accepting his duty of the hour with grace, courage, conviction, drive, and strength of character, Hooks advanced efforts begun more than a century ago by abolitionists, African Americans and others to force America to reject racist and caustic practices, thereby making real, rather than a professed ideal, principles of fairness and equality for African Americans and others.
Daphene R. McFerren
Director, Hooks Institute