Tavis: There was for me a sad irony this past week in losing both Reverend Benjamin L. Hooks and Dr. Dorothy I. Height. As a young man just out of college at Indiana University I moved here to Los Angeles to take my first job working for another African American icon, the late, great mayor of this city, Tom Bradley.
As a young aide to Mayor Bradley I’d often get assigned tasks that my more senior colleagues would pass on to me, the kid – things like running errands with the first lady of the city, Ethyl Bradley, representing the mayor at small community meetings and running to the mayor’s favorite hamburger stand at lunchtime to bring back a burger just like he wanted it.
I never thought of these tasks as menial, because I was happy to serve, to learn and to meet all kinds of interesting people. So one day the mayor calls me into his office and tells me that he’s going to loan me out for a week to the NAACP’s leader, Ben Hooks, who was in town for the NAACP Image Awards program.
“Tavis, whatever he needs, you tend to it,” said the mayor. “Yes, sir, Mr. Mayor,” I replied. So days later, I met Ben Hooks and his lovely wife, Frances, at LAX and hung out with them for the week, attending to their needs. Over the years I found myself assisting on behalf of the mayor any number of dignitaries visiting our city, from Ben Hooks to Wilma Rudolph, from Desmond Tutu to Claude Pepper, from Nelson Mandela to Muhammad Ali.
But as long as I live, I’ll never forget the three days I spent hosting, at the mayor’s request, Ben Hooks and Dorothy Height together – three days I have relived countless times over the years.
I remember sitting with them one night for dinner just up the street from here, in fact, at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and listening to them answer my questions for hours about the freedom movement and the roles they had played.
Listening to Hooks talk about growing up in Memphis in the segregated South and later recruited by Dr. King to serve on the SCLC board, and listening to Height talk about the back story to the March on Washington and her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary McCleod Bethune – oh, my, it was American history coming to life for me.
I didn’t want that night to ever end. Every time I would see or speak with Reverend Hooks or Dr. Height over the many years which followed, I’d thank them profusely for their love and service to our people and to the nation.
Benjamin Lawson Hooks and Dorothy Irene Height served honorably as leaders of the NAACP and the NCNW, respectively. From humble beginnings they became authentic American change agents and a grateful nation thanks them tonight for fighting the good fight and for keeping the faith.