Lonna Romaine Hooks is an attorney and New Jersey’s first Black secretary of state. Hooks was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and raised there. Her father was the dean of Fisk University’s art department, and the Hooks family lived on campus. Hooks took a public affairs course and worked at a local TV station, writing about “current topics” while in high school in Nashville.
Hooks received her bachelor’s degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1980 and her juris doctorate from Howard University School of Law in 1987. She began her legal career as a clerk for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals before joining Schering-Plough, a pharmaceutical firm based in Kenilworth, New Jersey. Hooks was involved in an automobile accident, which resulted in significant injuries that need months of physical rehabilitation. She then moved to Montclair, New Jersey, and established a home-based private practice law office.
Christine Todd Whitman met Hooks in 1986 while serving as head of the New Jersey State Board of Public Utilities and recruited her as her legal assistant. She served as Whitman’s chief of staff during her campaign for governor of New Jersey, and she was appointed as the 19th Secretary of State in 1993, making her the first African American to hold the position. Hooks, a Republican, was in charge of the New Jersey Historical Commission, the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, the New Jersey Division of Elections, and the New Jersey State Museum as secretary of state.
She was also Whitman’s business ombudsman, a role she held until her resignation in 1998. Hooks later worked as the executive director of Bloomfield College’s new Global Leadership Institute and then as the executive director of the American Public Welfare Association.