The Hempstead branch of the NAACP honored Hazel N. Dukes at a luncheon in Westbury on Saturday.  Credit: John Roca

While receiving a lifetime achievement award by the Hempstead NAACP Saturday, civil rights activist Hazel N. Dukes urged her audience to make sure they do their part and vote.

Her impassioned speech about the power of voting came after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturned the landmark 1973's Roe v. Wade decision on Friday.

“It is voting time. Put down the bullets and pick up the ballots,” Dukes told the crowd gathered for the 38th annual Freedom Fund Luncheon at Verdi’s of Westbury.

“Time is up. What you saw yesterday and three days ago, that’s just the beginning, so I  implore you, if you haven’t already, go out and vote. ... You ought to be there like they did for Mandela.”

Dukes, president of the New York State NAACP, pushed for equal voting rights during the civil rights movement in the '50s and '60s. She also fought housing discrimination in Roslyn more than 50 years ago, becoming the first Black resident of a Roslyn apartment complex after winning a lawsuit against the owners of the complex. She later helped elect the first Black member of the Roslyn school board.

“All you young Black folk who have made it and gone to Brown and gone to Yale and Harvard, we paid a price for it,” said Dukes, who was arrested several times during protests in New York City and was a Nassau County resident for 32 years.   

Event organizer Barbara Powell, president of the Hempstead branch of the NAACP, told Newsday that no one is more deserving of the honor.

“There is no NAACP without Hazel Dukes. She is 90 years old. She has been through it all, she has been through the struggles, she has been here to see the triumphs of the first Black president and she has always been so supportive,” Powell said.

Rodney Harrison, Suffolk County’s first Black police commissioner, publicly thanked Dukes for guiding him while he was an NYPD precinct commander (28th and 32nd precincts) in Harlem, where Duke now resides.

“I would not be in my shoes today as an executive in the NYPD as well as commissioner of Suffolk County, if it wasn’t for her mentoring and molding to be the best executive in law enforcement,” Harrison said to claps and cheers. 

The Hempstead chapter of the NAACP was first charted in 1932, making it the oldest branch on Long Island. Active members continue to fight for better housing, jobs and voting rights.

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