Each year, the Spirit of King Award Ceremony honors the lifetime achievements of a local resident who pursues human rights and equality in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
2020: Robert R. Lavelle and Nate Smith, Sr.
Nate Smith, Sr. (1929-2011) was the first African American to become an official member of the Operating Engineer's Union Local 66 whose actions paved the way for other minorities to join unions. His work was recognized by several presidents and his legacy is showcased in an exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.
Robert R. Lavelle (1915-2010) used his position as executive vice president and chief executive officer at Dwelling House Building and Loan in Pittsburgh's Hill District to ensure African Americans, particularly those who may not have qualified for a loan at other financial institutions, were able to secure home mortgages.
2019: Harvey Adams, Jr. and Judge Walter R. Little
Harvey Adams, Jr. (1929-2009) held positions of authority in the community for more than three decades using those positions to become one of the most powerful and outspoken civil rights activists in Pittsburgh history. Mr. Adams worked as chief of the Pittsburgh Housing Authority Police and served as president of the NAACP Pittsburgh Chapter. He also fought to ensure African Americans workers had jobs during Pittsburgh’s Renaissance II project, founded the Freedom from Hunger Campaign to benefit underprivileged families and helped establish the city’s African American Heritage Parade.
Judge Walter R. Little (1943-2006) was was elected to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and sat on a number of boards and held memberships with numerous professional and civic organizations throughout his career, including the Pittsburgh Chapter of the NAACP, Guardians of Greater Pittsburgh Inc., Sickle Cell Society, Auberle, Children of Love Theatre, Pittsburgh Community Services, National Association for the Study of Afro-American History, Smith Watkins Veterans Post No. 2, Allegheny County Prison Board and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
2018: Katie Everette-Johnson
Katie Everette-Johnson (1923-2017) fought to improve working conditions for factory workers and participated in numerous civil rights demonstrations with the Urban League of Pittsburgh. Later in her career, she became Port Authority’s first African-American manager when she was promoted to lead the Office of Equal Opportunity. In the late 1980s, Ms. Everette-Johnson helped establish the Spirit of King Award Ceremony in the late 1980s, and had served on the committee for nearly three decades.
2017: Cmdr. Gwen Elliott and Walt Harper
Cmdr. Gwen Elliott (1945-2007) was a Pittsburgh police commander who helped found the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime and Gwen's Girls, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the needs of at-risk girls 8 to 18 years old.
Walt Harper (1926-2006) was a jazz musician and influential owner of the Crawford Grill in the Hill District. In the 1970s, Harper and his band were hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers to play at all home games, which they did until 2002.
2016: Dorothy I. Height and Dr. Curtis Walker
Described by President Barack Obama as the “Godmother of the American Civil Rights Movement,” Dorothy I. Height (1912-2010) devoted her life to helping African American women overcome issues with illiteracy, unemployment and voter awareness. Ms. Height served as president of the National Council of Negro Women, a position she held for more than four decades. In 1963, Height helped organize the famed March on Washington during which she stood close to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. When Ms. Height died on April 20, 2010, at the age of 98, President Barack Obama ordered all flags to be flown at half-mast in her memory. The President also attended Ms. Height’s funeral and delivered her eulogy.
Dr. Curtis Walker (1932-2006) had a long and successful career in education–first as a teacher, then as a top administrator for Pittsburgh Public Schools. In 1972, Dr. Walker became the first Director of the Consultative Resources Center on School Desegregation and Conflict at the University of Pittsburgh, the first university desegregation center in the North. He later left the university to serve as the Deputy Superintendent, Associate Superintendent and Executive Officer of the Pittsburgh School District’s Equity, Compliance and Community Relations Department.
2015: K. Leroy Irvis
K. Leroy Irvis (1916-2006) was a teacher, activist and politician. Irvis was first elected to represent Pennyslvania's 19th Legislative District in 1958, a seat he held for 15 consecutive terms until 1988. Irvis was the first African American to serve as a speaker of the house in any state legislature in the United States since Reconstruction. During his tenure, he sponsored more than 1,600 pieces of legislation. He also introduced the idea of community-based higher education system, and has been called “the father” of the Pennsylvania's present-day community college system.
2014: Rev. LeRoy Patrick and August Wilson
During Pittsburgh’s civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Rev. LeRoy Patrick (1915-2006) became a prominent activist who used his position to gain equality for African-Americans in the fields of education, employment and housing.
Among the most well-known Pittsburgh-born artists, August Wilson (1945-2005) was a playwright whose work included a series of ten plays called The Pittsburgh Cycle for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes.
2013: Dr. Barbara Ann Sizemore
Dr. Barbara Ann Sizemore (1927-2004) left Washington, D.C. in 1975 -- where she was hired as the first African-American woman to serve as superintendent of schools to come to Pittsburgh to teach at the University of Pittsburgh. There, she conducted groundbreaking research on the relationship between low-income African-American children and education.
2012: Dr. Edna Beatrice Chappell McKenzie and Monsignor Charles Owen Rice
Dr. Edna Beatrice Chappell McKenzie (1923-2005) tackled social injustice even in the face of violence and intimidation. Her intellect and determination enabled her to overcome racial discrimination and succeed as a reporter, educator, historian, author and advocate for social change. In the 1940s, she became the only female reporter employed at The Pittsburgh Courier. Years later, she served as chairperson of the Black, Minority, and Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Pittsburgh.
Monsignor Charles Owen Rice (1908-2005) was one of the most influential religious figures in Western Pennsylvania history, using his positions as a Roman Catholic priest, a radio commentator and a newspaper columnist to support union workers, fight racism, reprimand the comfortable and champion the poor, the homeless and the imprisoned. In 1967, he walked arm-in-arm with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the United Nations building to protest the Vietnam War, and spoke at the March on the Pentagon protest rally.
2011: Rowlette Brown and Malvin R. Goode
Rowlette Brown (1929-2001) worked untiringly for social justice. In 1958, he was elected to the first of six bi-annual terms as President of the Pittsburgh Branch of the NAACP and later served on legal and civic boards and committees, including the Lawyers Advisory Committee, US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the Disciplinary Board, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the National Bar Association, the American Bar Association, the American Bar Foundation and the Academy of Trial Lawyers. He also served on the Board of Directors of The Pittsburgh Foundation.
Malvin R. Goode (1908-1995) became ABC-TV's first African-American reporter after working as a reporter for The Pittsburgh Courier and KQV radio. As a full-time news correspondent, Mr. Goode quickly made a name for himself at the network’s bureau at the United Nations. Throughout his distinguished career, Mr. Goode covered the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and the 1964 and 1968 Republican and Democratic National Conventions. His work inspired many young African-Americans to become journalists, including Ed Bradley, Max Robinson, Carol Simpson and Bernard Shaw.
2010: Bishop Charles H. Foggie and Jake Milliones, Ph.D.
In addition to serving the Pittsburgh community as president of the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP, as president of the Pittsburgh Housing Authority Board, Bishop Charles H. Foggie (1912-2000) labored for racial equality with senators Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, and took part in a Papal Mass with Pope John Paul II in October 1979. On June 13, 1986, Congress paid tribute to his leadership by flying a flag over the U.S. Capitol in his honor.
Jake Milliones, Ph.D. (1940-1993) made history in 1983 when he became the Pittsburgh School Board’s first African-American president. As president, he advocating the hiring of African-American teachers, insisted on strong performance standards for both students and faculty, and sought administrative and staff accountability during a crucial period of desegregation in the schools. Six years later, Dr. Milliones was elected to the Pittsburgh City Council, where he championed the Crawford Square development in the Hill District and created the Freedom Corner monument.
2009: Frank E. Bolden and Charles "Teenie" Harris
During his 27-year career at The Pittsburgh Courier, Frank E. Bolden (1912-2003) became one of the first two African-American accredited World War II correspondents. In 1962, Mr. Bolden left Pittsburgh to take a position with The New York Times before joining the National Broadcasting Company as a news reporter. He later returned to Pittsburgh and was hired by the Pittsburgh Board of Education as the associate director of Information Services and Community Relations, working to promote the system’s desegregation plan.
Celebrated photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998) began working as a freelance photographer for The Pittsburgh Courier in 1936, later accepting a full-time position as staff photographer. During his career, Mr. Harris took more than 80,000 photos, capturing the City of Pittsburgh as well as a number of celebrities and dignitaries, including President John F. Kennedy, Joe Louis, Roberto Clemente, Duke Ellington and Lena Horne. Today, his negatives are stored in the Teenie Harris Archives of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art.
2008: Richard F. Jones, Esq. and Mamie H. Lee
Richard F. Jones, Esq. (1899-1983) used his gifts as a trial lawyer to obtain recognition of the civil rights of all citizens. While serving as president of the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP, Mr. Jones was actively engaged in the successful suit to open Highland Park’s swimming pool to all citizens. Mr. Jones was instrumental in other milestone events for Pittsburgh’s African-American community, including the hiring of African-American teachers in Pittsburgh Public Schools and the hiring of African-American workers in defense industries and government following World War II.
Following the 1971 Attica Prison riot that left 39 inmates dead, Mamie H. Lee (1938-1984) began a prison reform movement in Pittsburgh called Vibrations that fought for fair and ethical treatment of inmates in Western Penitentiary and prisons throughout the state. In 1982, she became the first African-American to be appointed president of the national Meals on Wheels program.
2007: Robert E. Williams
Robert E. Williams (1907-1964) had a pioneering and dynamic political career in Pittsburgh that lasted more than three decades. In 1931, Mr. Williams was appointed to his first political position as deputy constable of Pittsburgh’s 5th Ward. He would later open his own private detective agency. Years of hard work and dedication earned Mr. Williams many notable distinctions. He became the first African-American detective in Pittsburgh (1945), the first African-American appointed as a magistrate in Pittsburgh (1946) and the first African-American in the state to be elected as a Democratic ward chairman (1947).
2006: Dr. Eugene Lloyd Youngue, Jr. and Everett Emory Utterback, Esq.
Dr. Eugene Lloyd Youngue, Jr. (1914-2002) became an active and well-respected member of the medical community while breaking down racial barriers in the healthcare industry. Dr. Youngue came to Pittsburgh in 1950 to work at the Veterans Hospital in Oakland. Despite his impressive experience, Dr. Youngue faced racial discrimination and worked tirelessly to bring ethnic and racial equality to the healthcare industry. In addition to devoting much of his life to serving and educating others, Dr. Youngue also authored more than 50 award-winning educational articles based on personal medical experiences and belonged to many professional organizations in and around the region.
Everett Emory Utterback, Esq. (1906-1992) overcame humble beginnings to achieve a successful law career and many firsts at the University of Pittsburgh. At Pitt, Utterback became the first African-American to captain a varsity team. He was also the first African-American to sit on the university’s Board of Trustees, and was involved in many professional organizations in the Pittsburgh area.
2005: Florence Reizenstein and Rev. Elmer Louis Williams
Florence Reizenstein (1901-1970) was a founding member and commissioner of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, as well founder and vice-president of the Negro Educational Emergency Drive (NEED) and the first president of the United Jewish Foundation’s Women’s Division. She was also a member of the NAACP, the Urban League, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the United Nations Association of Pittsburgh, among several other affiliations and accomplishments. The former Reizenstein Middle School in East Liberty/Shadyside was named after her.
Rev. Elmer Louis Williams (1931-1990) became one of Pittsburgh’s most respected religious leaders, combining ministry with social activism to address the needs of the African-American community. Under his leadership, the Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church purchased the Dr. J.C. Hairston Center and 28 homes near the church to provide low-cost rentals to residents – an area now known as Elmer L. Williams Square. Rev. Williams helped shape desegregation plans as a member of the Pittsburgh School Board and served on the University of Pittsburgh’s Board of Trustees.
2004: William Clarence "Billy" Eckstine and George W. Gaines, Sr.
William Clarence "Billy" Eckstine (1914-1993) was founder of The Billy Eckstine Orchestra, one of the first big bands to play the bebop style of jazz. Mr. Eckstine’s band introduced a number of legendary jazz artists to the world, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Wardell Gray and Sarah Vaughn. His successful ballads include “Everything I Have is Yours,” “ Blue Moon,” “Caravan,” “My Foolish Heart,” “I Apologize” and “Something More.”
George W. Gaines, Sr. (d. 1953) always dreamed of being a business owner. After graduating from Mortuary Science School with high honors at age 15, and in 1919 opened what was to become the largest funeral home in the Pittsburgh area. Mr. Gaines introduced the concept of a lead car and flower car in a funeral procession, individual family parlors and on-site casket selection.
2003: Dr. Selma Hortense Burke and Charles Henry Kindle
Dr. Selma Hortense Burke (1900-1995) was one of the 20th century’s finest African-American artists. Her portrait-sculpture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt is credited as the inspiration used in designing the Roosevelt dime. In 1940, she founded the Selma Burke School of Sculpture in New York City, and later created the Selma Burke Art Center in Pittsburgh, which would eventually become the Kingsley Center.
Charles Henry Kindle (1927-1993) was a passionate fighter for equality and justice around the world. Mr. Kindle is believed to have chaired the first African Affairs Committee of any NAACP branch in the country. Mr. Kindle served as president of the Penn Hills branch of the NAACP, and was instrumental in the construction of a baseball field there, which was dedicated and named in his honor in 1996.
2002: Dr. Alma Johnson Illery and Dr. James A. Stewart
Dr. Alma Johnson Illery (1900-1972) was a national civil rights pioneer. She founded Camp Achievement in Fayette County as a retreat for inner-city children. Dr. Illery also single-handedly urged Congress to establish January 5 as George Washington Carver Day. A small community hospital in Homewood was renamed the Alma Illery Medical Center in her honor.
Dr. James A. Stewart (1921-1994) was a pioneer in the field of medicine. While on staff at Mercy Hospital in 1974, he received the Fred C. Kluth Award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Health. Dr. Stewart originated the idea of a public health facility, and became medical director of the Homewood-Brushton Neighborhood Health Center. He later formed Primary Health Care Services.
2001: Hazel Garland and Dr. Oswald Jerry Nickens
Hazel Garland (1913-1988) became the first American woman to serve as editor of a nationally circulated newspaper chain when she was named to the post at the Pittsburgh Courier in 1972. She was named Editor of the Year by the National Newspaper Publishers Association in 1974 and received a National Headliner Award in 1975 from Women in Communications.
Dr. Oswald Jerry Nickens (1921-1995) was the first African-American physician to join the staff at both UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and West Penn Hospital. Dr. Nickens was also a founding member of the New World National Bank, the first local bank owned by African-Americans, and the Central Medical Pavilion.
2000: Louis Mason, Jr. and Frankie Pace
Louis Mason, Jr. (1915-1984) served as director of the Industrial Relations Department of the Urban League of Pittsburgh, executive director of the Mayor's Commission on Human Relations, deputy director of the Fair Employment Practices Commission and as president of Pittsburgh City Council.
Frankie Pace (1905-1989) was a tireless civic worker who in 1942 helped form a neighborhood group that later became the Citizens Committee for Hill District Renewal. She also served on the Board of Directors of the Urban League of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP.
1999: Oliver Wendell Mason
Oliver Wendell Mason was one of the first African-Americans hired by the Pittsburgh Police Department in 1944, eventually serving as a detective. During his career of more than 20 years, Mr. Mason played an important role in reducing juvenile delinquency and gang violence in the region.
1998: Oliver Livingstone Johnson
Oliver Livingstone Johnson (1891-1971) became the first African-American prosecuting attorney in the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office in 1942 and later practiced before the United States Supreme Court.
1997: Daisy E. Lampkin
Daisy E. Lampkin (1883-1965) fought for civil rights on the national scene as vice president of the Pittsburgh Courier, field secretary of the NAACP and chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Inc. Locally, she served on the Board of Directors of the Urban League of Pittsburgh.
1996: John Brewer, Sr. and Robert L. Vann
John Brewer, Sr. (1917-1987) became the first African-American principal in the City of Pittsburgh School District in 1954 and was twice honored as an Outstanding Educator of Pittsburgh.
Robert L. Vann (1887-1940) founded the Pittsburgh Courier in 1910 and was national director of Negro Publicity for the presidential campaigns of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.
1995: Mary Cardwell Dawson
Mary Cardwell Dawson (1894-1962) founded the National Negro Opera Company in 1941 to help African-American singers and musicians achieve their professional goals. She also developed the Cardwell School of Music in Homewood in 1926, which produced award-winning choirs that performed at World's Fairs in Chicago and New York.
1994: Roberto Clemente and Josh Gibson
Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente (1934-1972) starred with the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1954 to 1972, winning numerous honors during his career, including National League MVP in 1966 and 12 Gold Glove awards. He was tragically killed in a plane crash en route to Nicaragua to deliver aid to earthquake victims, and is the namesake of Major League Baseball’s Roberto Clemente Award, which is presented to players who give back to their communities.
Josh Gibson (1911-1947) was a Negro League baseball player with the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords. An inspiration to many African-American athletes, Mr. Gibson was often referred to as the “black Babe Ruth” and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
1993: Mary Elizabeth Goode Dudley
Mary Elizabeth Goode Dudley (1912-1964), better known by her radio name, Mary Dee, became the first African-American woman radio announcer in Western Pennsylvania in 1948. In 1958, the Homestead native became the first African-American woman to become a member of American Women in Radio and Television.
1992: Margaret L. Dobbins Milliones
Margaret L. Dobbins Milliones (1939-1978) was the first African-American woman elected to the City of Pittsburgh School Board. Ms. Milliones worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during her lifetime and also served as chairperson for the Black Women's Forum, which organized local women to address community issues.
1991: James McCoy, Jr.
James McCoy, Jr. (1919-1978) was a tireless worker for human rights. Mr. McCoy was founder of the United Negro Protest Committee, an important contingent in the local civil rights movement, and Freedom House Enterprises, a nonprofit organization designed to establish minority-owned businesses in the Pittsburgh area.
1990: Matthew Moore, Sr.
Matthew Moore, Sr. (1922-1985) dedicated his life to achieving racial equality for minorities, serving as the first vice president of the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP and a board member of the Pennsylvania branch of the NAACP, among other positions.
1989: Wilhelmina Byrd Brown
Wilhelmina Byrd Brown (1902-1985) was the first recipient of the Spirit of King Award. Ms. Brown dedicated 50 years of her life to public service, participating in dozens of community boards and organizations, most notably the YWCA, the Community Chest and the United Service Organization.
The Spirit of King ceremony is sponsored by Port Authority of Allegheny County, the Kingsley Association and the New Pittsburgh Courier.