NAACP Spingarn Medal (1914-)
In acknowledgement of Black History Month, The Royal Gazette continues the publication of stories throughout February on African-American and global African people, events and institutions, and their contributions in history
The Spingarn Medal is the highest honour of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. The NAACP annually awards this solid-gold medal for outstanding achievement by an African-American during the preceding year or years. The medal is usually presented to the winner at the NAACP’s Annual Convention.
The medal is named after its creator, Joel Elias Spingarn, a wealthy White writer, professor, and civil rights activist who was the NAACP’s board chairman and later president. In 1913, Spingarn travelled across the United States to recruit members to the NAACP. Reading local newspapers in many cities, he saw that the media focused on negative portrayals of African-Americans as criminals and persons of low intelligence.
He created the annual Spingarn Medal in 1914 to provide national attention to the impressive contributions of African-American citizens and thereby counter the media’s racist stereotyping. Spingarn also wanted the award to increase the racial pride of African-Americans and to stimulate the ambition of African-American youth. The award provided national attention to the outstanding achievements of African-Americans in the areas of science, education, the arts, religion, business or other honourable professions.
Spingarn created a nine-person Committee of Award selected by the NAACP board of directors to select the recipient of the medal each year. As chairman of the board, Spingarn selected prominent White and African-American men to the award committee to increase media attention to the medal. The committee included ex-President William Taft and Oswald Garrison Villard, grandson of William Lloyd Garrison, John Hope, president of Morehouse College, and John Hurst, Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church
In 1915, there were 30 nominations for the first Spingarn Medal. The award committee selected Earnest Everett Just as the first person to receive the Spingarn Medal for his distinguished work as Head of Physiology at Howard University Medical School. Other past recipients include writers W.E.B. Du Bois and Richard Wright; civil rights leaders the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks; jurists Thurgood Marshall and William Hastie; musicians Marian Anderson and Duke Ellington; actors Sammy Davis Jr and Oprah Winfrey; athletes Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron; political leaders Colin Powell and Barbara Jordan; educators John Hope Franklin and Mary McLeod Bethune; scientists Charles R. Drew and George Washington Carver; and business leaders John Johnson and Anthony Overton. The award has been made annually every year except for 1938, 1975, 1978 and 1984.
The Spingarn Medal is solid gold. The front side has a raised image of Lady Justice holding a sword with her right hand and the scales of justice in her left hand. The words “For Merit” are engraved next to her. The medal was valued at $100 in 1915, and Spingarn’s will include an endowment for the award.
• Pien, D. (2021, January 26) NAACP Spingarn Medal (1914- ). Retrieved from https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/naacp-spingarn-medal-1914/