Hazel Dukes: A civil rights activist still fighting for racial equality today
The former NAACP President continues to push activism, and pushed the importance of voting in 2020.
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Hazel Dukes was born in Montgomery, Alabama before her family moved to New York.
There, while attending college at Adelphi University, is where she first got involved with civil rights when a man representing the NAACP visited the school to speak about voter registration.
“That was the height of getting African Americans getting active about voting so the systems could be changed,” she told AL DÍA in an exclusive interview.
That is also when Dukes became a part of her college’s NAACP chapter, an organization she would later be the president of in Region 2 — constituting the Northeast —nationally, and in New York.
Dukes emphasized that she always felt inspired to get involved with the civil rights movement.
Her father was a pullman porter and was heavily involved with activism rising out of pullman porter union.
She remembers Asa Philip Randolph, an activist that led the March on Washington in 1963 alongside Martin Luther King, that also collaborated with her father.
Ms. Dukes’s family on both sides also had multiple members who were part of the education system.
“At that time, most jobs for African Americans were in the postal service, the trains, or teaching,” she said.
But after the desegregation of public schools, many Black teachers lost their jobs.
Ms. Dukes says she knew many who this happened to. More specifically, the teachers hit the most with job loss were those who participated in the civil rights movement in many ways, such as registering Black voters, or taking part in the Montgomery bus boycott..
But the difficulty and bleak job prospects did not change her mind about becoming a teacher early on in her life.
However, her perspective changed when she got to college and saw the other opportunities being presented to Black people. Dukes eventually received her degree in business administration.
Black teachers are still not seen enough in the education system of American today, and Dukes says it’s because of the other opportunities that opened up as a result of the Civil Rights movement. Still, she said it’s “unfortunate” representation among teachers is so bad.
For education to really mean something, according to Dukes, America needs a “diverse teaching of faculty, [and] a curriculum change in education so all children can understand what each minority group has contributed to America.”
Right now, the books and curriculum do not educate nearly enough.
“One month for African Americans stories in a year? Not enough,” Duke said.
She added that you cannot give nearly enough education of the contributions that the Black community has done to “making America great again” in one month
When asked about the fight for racial equality and how it has changed throughout the years, she said that a white woman began the NAACP because Black people were being lynched and hung from trees.
“Well, they’re not being hung from trees anymore. But to shoot someone in the back seven times?” That’s lynching as far as I’m concerned. To put your knee on someone’s neck and stand there and laugh about it? That’s lynching. And so, it hasn’t changed in action,” said Dukes. “Words have changed.”
As a result, the unrest that continues, and rightfully so.
“In 2020, we should not be at that same point that we were in 1909,” said Dukes.
Her message to those still fighting for equality today? She urges people to register to vote.
“We must participate in democracy. We must elect men and women who will change policies,” she said. “Vote. Vote. Vote. Vote for someone who is for the people.”