Hazel N. Dukes, a longtime civil rights activist and the president of the New York State NAACP, was honored by the Town of North Hempstead on Saturday with a street naming ceremony in Roslyn Heights, near where she once lived. More than 250 people attended the event, including state Attorney General Letitia James, former Gov. David Paterson and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

For her lifetime of work fighting for equality and justice, Hazel N. Dukes has been bestowed with countless honors and distinctions.

The latest recognition, though, held special meaning to the civil rights activist.

“This is home,” Dukes said Saturday to a crowd of more than 250 people in Roslyn Heights where she once lived. 

The Town of North Hempstead honored Dukes, who now lives in Manhattan, by naming a street in her honor during a ceremony on the day after her 91st birthday. As dozens of friends and colleagues held up cellphones, Dukes pulled a yellow tassel to reveal the “Dr. Hazel Dukes Way” street sign that now stands on Edwards Street by the Roslyn Gardens apartment complex.

Hazel Dukes at a street renaming ceremony in her name in...

Hazel Dukes at a street renaming ceremony in her name in Roslyn Heights on Saturday. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Dukes, who is president of the New York State NAACP, posed for photos as Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” played on the speakers.

“Dr. Dukes, in North Hempstead, is our Rosa Parks,” said Town Councilman Robert Troiano, who led the ceremony along with Nassau County Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury).

The street sign will serve as a reminder for future generations of the struggle Dukes faced to combat housing discrimination, a problem still evident today across Long Island, speakers said. In her remarks, Dukes referenced Newsday’s Long Island Divided series in 2019 that exposed unequal treatment of minority homebuyers.

Marge Rogatz, a Port Washington social justice advocate who celebrated her 95th birthday Saturday, told the story of the late 1950s when she and Dukes devised a plan to confront housing discrimination. Dukes applied for an apartment and as expected was denied.

Rogatz and another white friend went to the same apartment complex, where a vacancy sign advertised openings. When Rogatz was offered an apartment, she and Dukes contacted an attorney and the trio quickly returned to the apartment complex.

“Needless to say, that day, Hazel got her apartment,” Rogatz said.

Rogatz told Newsday that Dukes has the same energy now as when she was in her 20s.

“She’s a phenomenon that has nothing to do with anything that anyone could explain, because she’s one of a kind,” Rogatz said.

Church leaders, members of the NAACP, elected officials and so many others whom Dukes has influenced, guided and inspired over the years attended Saturday. New York Attorney General Letitia James, former Gov. David Paterson and state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli all shared stories of Dukes and her indelible impact to fight systemic racism.

“I know I stand on the shoulders of ‘Mama’ Dukes,” said James, who is the first Black woman to hold the attorney general position in New York. “You inspire all who have had the privilege to see you in action.”

DiNapoli described himself as one of the early graduates of the “Hazel N. Dukes school of civic engagement and activism.”

He said Dukes, a woman “of strength and valor,” was an early mentor for him who encouraged him to run for school board when he was only 18.

Toward the end of her speech, Dukes urged the attendees to carry the torch and “make the Town of North Hempstead what it should be.”

“I paved the way for you,” she said. “Don’t be afraid. God is on your side. … Stand up. This is your day.”

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