(NNPA)—We have lost two brave and courageous souls in the struggle for civil rights and social justice—Dr. Benjamin Lawson Hooks and Dr. Dorothy Irene Height.
I knew them both very well. Ben Hooks was a Renaissance man. He was a minister who pastored two churches for 30 years—one in Memphis and the other in Detroit. He was a soldier during World War II. He was a lawyer who sat on the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and became the head of the NAACP. He was appointed a judge in Memphis, and became the first African-American federal commissioner. Ben Hooks was an extraordinary man.
Dorothy Height was a gracious, stylish woman. Through her leadership of the YWCA, Delta Sigma Theta and the National Council of Negro Women, she became a dependable, determined voice for human rights. After the March on Washington in 1963, in meetings with Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, she was often the only woman in the room.
These two great individuals had problems. They had their share of setbacks, but they never got lost in a sea of despair.
Dorothy Height graduated from high school with honors and was accepted to Barnard College in New York City. She came alone to the city with her bags in her hands. But the college turned her away, saying it had met its quota of two Black students.
Ben Hooks did not like the unfair treatment he experienced as a soldier in the war, so he studied the law. But becoming a lawyer did not protect him from the insults and the indignities of being Black in America.
These two great African-Americans did not give up. They did not give in. They did not give out. They kept the faith, and they used every opportunity they had to win a victory for humanity. As great warriors for non-violent change begin to leave us, the time is coming when you may be called to fill their shoes. As the call to leadership goes forward, we must remember the true legacy of African-America.
The greatest among us meet every setback as an opportunity, strive toward the best education, out-perform the finest in their field, stand up against injustice, serve their families and their communities, and use their history and their faith to guide their steps. Dorothy Height, Ben Hooks are gone. Now it is up to us to do our part.
(John Lewis is a Democratic U.S. representative from Georgia.)