New York, NY - On August 3, 2023, Dr. Hazel N. Dukes received the NAACP Spingarn Medal. The award was presented by her friend, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at the 114th National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts. Sec. Clinton commended Dr. Dukes for her many decades of service to the people of New York and dedication to bettering the lives of Black Americans across the country. “She joins a long list of distinguished awardees who have not given up in a world that doesn't always respect the intelligence or personhood of Black women,” Clinton said. “It would be literally impossible to count the number of lives she's touched but I know personally how much she has touched mine, and I will always be grateful for her wisdom, her humor, and her grace.”
The Spingarn Medal is the highest NAACP award. It was established in 1914 by the late Joel E. Spingarn, the then NAACP Chairman of the Board of Directors. It was given annually until his death in 1939. The medal is awarded for the highest or noblest achievement by a living African American during the preceding year or years in any honorable field. Photos of previous Spingarn medal recipients were displayed on screen throughout the evening and include: Mrs. Daisy Bates (Little Rock Nine), Myrlie Evers-Williams, Earl G. Graves Sr., W.E.B DuBois, George Washington Carver, Charles Drew, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Cicely Tyson, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Quincy Jones, and the Honorable Nathaniel Jones.
National Board of Directors Chairman Leon W. Russell, Vice Chair Karen Boykin-Towns, and President & CEO Derrick Johnson, shared remarks reflecting on Dr. Dukes' illustrious activism, career, and the immense impact she has had within the association and in her community through her various leadership roles.
"Dr. Hazel Nell Dukes, the 108th Spingarn medalist, exemplifies the resolute spirit of Black Americans, shattering barriers and making invaluable contributions to our nation," said NAACP National Board of Directors Chairman Leon W. Russell. "A mother, leader, civil rights activist, and authentic friend, she embodies the essence of transformative leadership. Her indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication are an inspiration to all. In a world where women have been marginalized and underestimated, Dr. Dukes stands tall as a living testament to strength, courage, and determination. She proves that there is always a light if we dare to see it, and if we are brave enough, we can become that light ourselves."
A video chronicling the 70 years of service of “Mama Dukes,” as she affectionately called, was shown, and the song “I’m Coming Out” was played as Sec. Clinton bestowed the medal. In accepting the award, Dr. Dukes said, “First, I give glory to God for his grace, for without him, this 91-year- old woman would not be standing before you. Over these past few years, God has blessed me with incredible honors, accolades and love.” She also thanked God for her one only son, Ronald, and asked him to stand.
Dr. Dukes said she was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude to be included among this distinguished list of Spingarn medalists. "This medal serves as a recognition of my life's work and reflects on those who have walked with me over the past 70 years. To know my name is etched in NAACP history and American history alongside the civil rights legends who came before me is a humbling honor. These 70 years have not been easy. They have been filled with pain, hardships, and tribulations. But the struggles of those who paved the way serve as a powerful reminder that we must take bold steps to confront racism and tirelessly advocate for civil rights. We must continue fighting the good fight. Throughout my time as an NAACP leader, my greatest privilege has been to mentor those growing up in the association. I hope my legacy leaves a roadmap for younger generations to learn from and use as they carry this movement forward." She acknowledged New York politicians and civil rights leaders, and she thanked them for their support, and “for always giving me a seat at the table.”
Rev. Dr. Anthony Davis, president of Livingstone College, was among the invited guests. Dr. Dukes acknowledged and thanked Rev. Dr. Malcolm J. Byrd, Senior Pastor at Mother A.M.E. Zion Church, where Dr. Dukes is a frequent visitor. Dr. Dukes and Rev. Byrd have been friends for many years. They often attend community board and legislative meetings together and walk arm-in-arm at national rallies and marches.
The affiliation between the NAACP and the A.M.E. Zion Church is longstanding and well-documented. It is a kinship dating back decades that still exist today. Many clergy and members from episcopal districts across the country are card-carrying members of the NACCP.
Congratulations to Dr. Hazel N. Dukes.
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