WOMEN'S HISTORY MONTH – I am of the mindset we should celebrate the many contributions of women throughout the year. However, March is the month that has been designated as Women's History Month – a dedicated time to celebrate the outstanding achievements of women across the country.
According to the National Women's History Project (NWHP), "recognizing the achievements of women in all facets of life – science, community, government, literature, art, sports, and medicine – has a huge impact on the development of self-respect and new opportunities for girls and young women."
Among Memphis' notable women of achievement stands Julia B. Hooks, whose accomplishments have laid the ground work for the growth and development of many of today's business women. This month, "On Our Way to Wealthy" salutes her excellence.
'Angel of Beale Street'
Julia Britton Hooks (1862-1942), was among the first black women in the country to attend college. Frequently referred to as the "angel of Beale Street," she taught in the public schools and later founded the Hooks Cottage School.
While her grandson, the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks, broke through numerous barriers on the way to become a community icon, he was not the first Hooks to contribute great things to society. He built upon the fortitude of his grandmother, a gifted musician whose pupils included W.C. Handy, the "Father of the Blues."
As an early leader for social welfare, Julia B. Hooks, founded the Negro Old Folks and Orphans Home in 1891, playing concerts to pay for the building. In 1917, she was a charter member of the NAACP.
As a musical prodigy, Hooks enrolled in an interracial program that allowed her to study music and instruct white students in piano. This powerhouse of a woman also participated in the successful campaign of Blanche K. Bruce, one of the first blacks to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Hooks was a noted leader in African-American cultural and educational affairs. In 1883, she and Anna Church, the wife of noted Memphis businessman, philanthropist, community activist and political leader Robert Church Sr., launched a club to promote classical music and raise money for scholarships for promising black musicians.
She founded the Hooks School of Music, whose students included Handy, Sidney Woodward and Nell Hunter. Dissatisfied with the poor quality of public education for Memphis' black children, she opened the Hooks Cottage School (kindergarten and elementary education) in 1892.
Hooks considered it part of her mission to relieve the suffering of impoverished black Memphians. In 1891 she became a charter member of two institutions: the Colored Old Folks Home (later Hooks-Edwards Rest Home) and the Orphan Home Club.
In 1902, Memphis established a juvenile court for African-American offenders. Julia and Charles Hooks supervised the detention home, which was next door to their own home. In 1917, Charles Hooks was killed by an escaping juvenile, but Julia Hooks continued to provide counseling and guidance to the juvenile facility.
Ahead of her time in terms of the civil rights movement, Hooks despised the racial inequality and Jim Crow segregation of her day. She championed personal character building as well as government protection for embattled black citizens.
Equipped with a true love of the arts, and in true Rosa-Parks style, in March 1881 Hooks was escorted from a Memphis theater, arrested, and fined five dollars for refusing to move from the white section to the "colored balcony."
With Julia B. Hooks as our starting point, this month "On Our Way to Wealthy" shares the stories of local Memphis women who – in their own ways – are putting their marks on current-day Memphis.
(NOTE: To learn more about Julia B. Books, see the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.)