Spingarn Medal

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Spingarn Medal

The Spingarn Medal is awarded annually by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for "the highest or noblest achievement by an American Negro." It is awarded by a nine-member committee selected by the NAACP board of directors. Nominations are open, and the awards ceremony has traditionally been part of the NAACP annual convention. First awarded in 1915, the Spingarn Medal has gone to African Americans who have made significant contributions in different fields of endeavor. It was for many years considered the highest honor in black America, although its prestige has declined somewhat in recent years because of the NAACP's institution of the Image Awards and perhaps because of the fragmenting of black institutional leadership.

The Spingarn Medal is named for Joel E. Spingarn (18741939), who originated the idea of it. Spingarn, who was white, was professor and chair of the Department of Comparative Literature at Columbia University from 1909

Spingarn Medal Winners

1915 Ernest E. Just
1916 Charles Young
1917 Harry T. Burleigh
1918 William S. Braithwhite
1919 Archibald H. Grimké
1920 William E. B. [W. E. B.] Du Bois
1921 Charles S. Gilpin
1922 Mary B. Talbert
1923 George Washington Carver
1924 Roland Hayes
1925 James Weldon Johnson
1926 Carter G. Woodson
1927 Anthony Overton
1928 Charles W. Chesnutt
1929 Mordecai Wyatt Johnson
1930 Henry A. Hunt
1931 Richard Berry Harrison
1932 Robert Russa Moton
1933 Max Yergan
1934 William Taylor Burwell Williams
1935 Mary McLeod Bethune
1936 John Hope
1937 Walter White
1938 No award given
1939 Marian Anderson
1940 Louis T. Wright
1941 Richard Wright
1942 A. Philip Randolph
1943 William H. Hastie
1944 Charles Drew
1945 Paul Robeson
1946 Thurgood Marshall
1947 Percy Julian
1948 Channing H. Tobias
1949 Ralph J. Bunche
1950 Charles Hamilton Houston
1951 Mabel Keaton Staupers
1952 Harry T. Moore (posthumous award)
1953 Paul R. Williams
1954 Theodore K. Lawless
1955 Carl Murphy
1956 Jack Roosevelt (Jackie) Robinson
1957 Martin Luther King Jr.
1958 Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Nine
1959 Edward Kennedy (Duke) Ellington
1960 Langston Hughes
1961 Kenneth B. Clark
1962 Robert C. Weaver
1963 Medgar Wiley Evers (posthumous award)
1964 Roy Wilkins
1965 Leontyne Price
1966 John H. Johnson
1967 Edward W. Brooke III
1968 Sammy Davis Jr.
1969 Clarence Mitchell Jr.
1970 Jacob Lawrence
1971 Leon Howard Sullivan
1972 Gordon Parks
1973 Wilson C. Riles
1974 Damon J. Keith
1975 Henry Aaron
1976 Alvin Ailey
1977 Alexander Palmer (Alex) Haley
1978 Andrew Jackson Young
1979 Rosa L. Parks
1980 Rayford W. Logan
1981 Coleman Alexander Young
1982 Benjamin E. Mays
1983 Lena Horne
1984 Tom Bradley
1985 William H. (Bill) Cosby Jr.
1986 Benjamin Lawson Hooks
1987 Percy Ellis Sutton
1988 Frederick Douglass Patterson
1989 Jesse Jackson
1990 Lawrence Douglas Wilder
1991 Colin Powell
1992 Barbara Jordan
1993 Dorothy I. Height
1994 Maya Angelou
1995 John Hope Franklin
1996 Carl Rowan
1997 Leon Higginbotham
1998 Myrlie Evers-Williams
1999 Earl G. Graves Sr.
2000 Oprah Winfrey
2001 Vernon E. Jordan Jr.
2002 John Lewis
2003 Constance Baker Motley
2004 Robert L. Carter

until 1911, when he resigned over free-speech issues. He became involved in the NAACP because of civil rights abuses in the South. Spingarn joined the NAACP's board of directors in 1913 and helped establish the NAACP's New York office. In 1913 and 1914, while traveling throughout the country organizing the association and speaking for the rights of black people, he noticed that newspaper coverage of African Americans tended to be negative, focusing on black murderers and other criminals. A close collaborator of W. E. B. Du Bois, Spingarn was sensitive to media portrayal of blacks. Independently wealthy, he endowed an award, a medal to be made of gold "not exceeding $100" in value, that would pinpoint black achievement, strengthen racial pride, and publicize the NAACP. To assure that white attention would be directed toward the award, Spingarn set up an award committee consisting of prominent men, including Oswald Garrison Villard (grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison) and ex-president William Howard Taft. There were thirty nominations for the first medal, which was awarded to biologist Ernest E. Just and presented by the first of the celebrity presenters Spingarn would arrange, New York governor Charles S. Whitman.

Spingarn Medal winners have included ministers, educators, performers (including musicians), popular entertainers, baseball players, military officers, historians, and other professionals and leaders. Beginning with Mary B. Talbert in 1922, eleven women have won the Spingarn Medal. The award has twice been given posthumously.

See also National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)


Ross, Barbara Joyce. J. E. Spingarn and the Rise of the NAACP, 19111939. New York: Atheneum, 1972.

greg robinson (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005