Pulitzers Honor Work of Three Black Icons

By Tiarra Mukherjee Apr 16, 2019

The 2019 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced Monday (April 15) with awards honoring Aretha Franklin, Frederick Douglass and Alain Locke. Franklin’s posthumous award makes her the first woman to receive a special citation since the prize was first awarded in 1930, ABC News reports. The Pulitzer board wrote that Franklin, who died at 76 in August following a battle with pancreatic cancer, was honored for “her indelible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.” Past special citation recipients include Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

Awards in literature honored books about American history legends. David W. Blight’s “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” won best work of history, and “The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke,” by Jeffrey C. Stewart won in the biography category. 

The work of Douglass, a leader in the abolitionist movement in America; Locke, who fathered the Harlem Renaissance; and Franklin, who created the soundtrack to the Civil Rights era movement, was all instrumental to social and political change in this country.

Awardee Stewart also drew a line connecting the three icons via music. “Frederick Douglass was one of the first people to provide an intellectual portrait of the spirituals, to show they were not just religious music, but statements of humanity and longing for freedom among the slaves,” he told ABC News. “For Locke, spirituals were his favorite musical forms because they had that religious-philosophical dimension of the Black experience, culled into a unique aesthetic form. And then you think of Aretha Franklin, who came out of gospel and brought into it popular music. So you can see a real continuum."

See the full list of 2019 awardees at Pulitzer.org.