Julia Hooks, an activist and educator with passion
The birth of Julia A. B. Hooks in 1852 is celebrated on this date. She was an African American musician, educator and social worker.
Born in Kentucky, her talent in music was recognized at an early age. She was educated at Berea College establishing herself in Memphis well before the turn of the century. There she became active in musical groups such as Liszt Mullard Club, which performed classical music concerts in the city during the 1880s. Hooks also was involved with different churches because of her skill in playing the organ, directing choirs and choral groups. In addition, she taught music, and every year her students appeared in recital at Zion Hall, Beale Street Baptist Church.
For a while, Hooks served as a teacher and principal in the Memphis city schools; she later operated a private kindergarten and elementary school in her home. Hooks loved children and had an unusual capacity to relate to them; they returned her affection. Often, she would organize groups of young people for picnics; play activities, or musical programs, arriving at rehearsals for recitals with an ice cream cone for each child. A dignified, compassionate woman, her sincerity inspired confidence and trust. These served her well when she became an officer of the Juvenile Court, often changing the attitude of rebellious youngsters helping them handle their problems.
In 1907, the city opened a small Juvenile Detention Home next to her house, which she and her husband, Charles, a truant officer, supervised. Mr. Hooks was killed by one of the wards, but she continued her efforts to help young people. At times Judge Camille Kelly, a well-known judge of the Juvenile Court, would invite Hooks to sit with her when certain cases concerning Black youths were on her calendar. Throughout her lifetime Hooks maintained an interest in the underprivileged of all ages. She initiated the founding of the Old Folks and Orphans Home, playing in concerts to help pay for the home.
She had two sons, Henry and Robert; both became photographers and established a studio known as Hooks Brothers Photographers. She is also the grandmother of Benjamin Hooks, who in 1972 became the first Black member of the Federal Communications Commission and served as executive secretary of the NAACP. Julia Hooks died in 1942 at the age of ninety and, according to her obituary, was able to play the piano until a few weeks before she passed away.
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Parkway Press, LLC 1994
Paul R. Coppock,
Friends of Memphis and Shelby County Libraries, 1976
Today in American History