NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Benjamin L. Hooks, who as executive director of the NAACP was a champion for the poor and minorities, died Thursday, according to news reports. He was 85.

Hooks became executive director of the NAACP in 1977, taking over a group that was $1 million in debt, according to The Associated Press. Membership had shrunk to 200,000 from nearly half a million in the 1950s and 1960s. He pledged to increase enrollment and raise money for the organization.

“Black Americans are not defeated,” he told Ebony magazine soon after his induction, according to the AP. “The civil rights movement is not dead. If anyone thinks that we are going to stop agitating, they had better think again. If anyone thinks that we are going to stop litigating, they had better close the courts. If anyone thinks that we are not going to demonstrate and protest, they had better roll up the sidewalks.”

By the time he left as executive director in 1992, the NAACP had rebounded, with membership growing by several hundred thousand. To make that happen, he created community radiothons to make the public more aware of activities by local NAACP branches and boost membership, the AP reported.

Pictured above is Benjamin L. Hooks.