The Ben F. Jones Chapter of the
National Bar Association was by no means built in a day.
It was not built by single person or even a single group
of people. In fact, there are dozens of noteworthy
individuals and several generations to whom our
existence must be fairly attributed. However, to
the extent there was a single seed from which the Ben F.
Jones Chapter would gradually emerge, we trace our roots
back to a group of lawyers now collectively known as
"The First Five." While the chapter's official
formation would postdate the First Five to some degree,
these few trailblazers unwittingly set the stage for the
organization that we know today.
J.F. Estes hailed from Jackson, TN and obtained his
license to practice law in approximately 1948. He was
very visible on the legal front of the civil rights
movement and was heavily involved in the ongoing
criminal defense of civil rights demonstrators. He
became known as the founder of “Tent City” - a
makeshift refuge for black farmers in Fayette County
who were evicted by white landowners for registering
to vote. Estes was instrumental in many
voter registration drives throughout rural areas of
west Tennessee – particularly in Fayette County. Estes more than once made the 22 hour drive to
Washington, D.C. in order to speak directly to John Doar of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights
Division, requesting legal action to enforce
desegregation and anti-Jim Crow laws. In 1967, Estes
died after a brief illness at the early age of 47.
REV. DR. BENJAMIN L. HOOKS
Benjamin Lawson Hooks graduated from DePaul University
College of Law and became an attorney and an ordained
Baptist minister. He is revered for his unparalleled
15 years of service as Executive Director of the
NAACP, beginning in 1977. Prior to that, he was a
Criminal Court Judge in Shelby County and the first
black member of the Federal Communications Commission.
On November 5, 2007, Hooks was awarded the
Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ben Jones maintained a diverse law practice from 1949
until his untimely death in 1966. He assisted H.T.
Lockard, Ben Hooks, and A.A. Latting with several
local civil rights cases and contributed to the
criminal defense of many victims of Jim Crow.
Born in Lauderdale County, TN in 1920 and licensed to
practice law in 1951, Judge H.T. Lockard helped pave
the way for black politicians to come when he was
elected to the old Shelby County Court (now the Shelby
County Commission) in 1964. He also was a Shelby
County Criminal Court Judge from 1975 until his
retirement in 1994. As a lawyer during the 1950s and
1960s, he was involved in cases that challenged
segregation in education, recreation, and
SHEPPERSON A. WILBUN, SR.
S.A. Wilbun was born in 1924. He attended Howard Law
School, received his law license in 1955, and quickly
moved his practice from Arkansas to Memphis. His
distinguished career is adorned with many firsts,
including his appointments as the first black
Assistant City Attorney in 1964 and the first black
City Court Judge in 1973. He then became a Shelby
County Circuit Court Judge and served in that capacity
for twelve years before retiring. Wilbun died in 1991
at age 67.
Following the informal study sessions
of the First Five were more organized alliances of other
charismatic African American attorneys who were
equally integral in the development of the Ben F.
Jones Chapter. These individuals included Russell Sugarmon, Sr.; A.W. Willis; Arthur Bennett; James
Swearengen; Ira Murphy; Johnny Johnson, and several
other local lawyers who shared the common goal of
fighting for civil rights through the legal system and
demanding well-deserved respect for the African