Dr. Hazel Nell Dukes received the NAACP’s 108th Spingarn Medal and was showered with a glowing bouquet of adjectives Tuesday evening at the Boston Convention Center.
“She exemplifies the spirit of the award,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, beginning the rosary of recognition Dukes received from speaker after speaker. “Dr. Dukes joins a long line of distinguished medalists, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou, and Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois.” Moreover, he added, “I have had the distinct pleasure of working alongside Hazel for many years.”
Oprah Winfrey; Maurice Coleman, an executive at Bank of America; Leon Russell, chair of the NAACP’s Board of Directors; Faith Blackburne-Proctor, the daughter of Laura Blackburne; Reena Everette, daughter of Myrlie Evers-Williams; Dr. Marcella Maxwell, chair of the Spingarn Committee; and musical interludes from Angelena Hightower were pleasant preludes before Hillary Clinton presented the award to Dukes.
“I am delighted to present the Spingarn Medal to my longtime friend,” said Clinton, the former Secretary of State. Among the accolades for Dukes, Clinton placed her in the historical context of previous winners, including Mary Talbert, the first woman to receive the honor in 1922. “Like her, Dr. Dukes has been part of the fight for women’s rights and carried on that tradition.”
At the podium, after Clinton’s warm regards for her friend, Dukes took a few moments to gather herself and address the moment. “I am overwhelmed with joy and gratitude…what a blessing for me,” she began. Then, there was the long litany of praise for those who had come before her and saluted for their service to the NAACP. In an earlier interview, she explained that the honor was special “since I have nominated several recipients of the award, including Stevie Wonder, Jessye Norman, and Harry Belafonte.”
In the long list of people whom Dukes thanked for the occasion, including her son, she expressed passionate words for her mentor, Mildred Bond Roxborough, who at 97 remains an unflinching stalwart on the ramparts of civil rights. Toward the close of her speech, she recited a favorite quote: “If I can help somebody as I travel along, then my living will not have been in vain.” As if urging on the fight for justice and equality, she concluded by declaring, “I am not tired yet!”
Publicist Ken Sunshine; Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the NAACP Greater Springfield Branch; and vocalist Danielle Ponder captured some of Dukes’s tireless resolve—at 91, Dukes continues as president of the NAACP New York State Conference and a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors—in Ponder’s heartfelt version of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change is Gonna Come.”
Like a potent, relentless river, Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, the freedom fighter who got her start in the struggle with her family in Montgomery, Alabama, keeps rolling along.