Hazel Dukes Still Marching
Longtime NAACP member Hazel Dukes says that in today’s political climate, she can understand why some people are afraid. However, they have the tools to fight back.
“I say, ‘Look, [President Donald] Trump is there, but we can trump Trump, so that’s what we need to spend our energy and time doing,’” says Dukes, 86. “What we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to participate. Not just sit down and wring our hands and say, ‘Oh poor me and woe is me.’ That’s not where we need to be. Advocacy means that we’ve got to get out and work. … You see wrong, speak out about it. You see injustice raising its ugly head, cut it off. Stand up if nobody else is standing up. You’re in the NAACP.”
It’s the same unbeatable spirit that has propelled Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference, through decades in the organization. Dukes says she was drawn to civil rights work listening to her father talk about the way things were back in her birthplace of Montgomery, Ala.
“When I got older, I understood that it was about race and racism and I guess being the only child, and my mom always said I was my dad’s child,” Dukes says. “Understanding it as I got older made me want to be a part of action, movement.”
And Dukes has been part of the action for more than five decades. In fact, she still participates in marches, protests and demonstrations in her fight for justice for all.
As president of the New York State Conference, Dukes overseas 56 branches. She is also a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors. But she notes that it hasn’t always been easy getting things done. Dukes says that she, like many women, has had to fight for a seat at the male-dominated table. It was politician C. DeLores Tucker who encouraged her to find her voice.
“She brought that kind of energy of women not being in the background,” Dukes remembers. “I learned to speak up. If you’re in the room, you don’t have to be silent because all of the men are talking.You have ideas. You have vision. You have intelligence. You are educated.”
Dukes has garnered headlines for speaking up and out against injustice.
She says she’s used what Tucker told her to nurture other women in the NAACP, including former board chair Roslyn Brock. Dukes developed a close bond with another former NAACP board chair Myrlie Evers-Williams, and can count many women currently working for the organization as her mentees.
Last September, Dukes was honored at the Black Women’s Agenda 40th Annual Symposium and Luncheon for her achievements linking business, government and social change to advance the Civil Rights Movement. What drives her most of all, she says, is making sure that people know that the NAACP is still very much relevant to their lives.
“Elections have consequences, and then I break it down to them about their health care, about education. Things that are their everyday life. And most people, their eyes light up and they say ‘Oh, you know, you’re right.’ Then I say, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’”
— Lisa Snowden-McCray