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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Laverne Cox to be Awarded Harvard’s Highest Honor for African and African American Studies

The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research awards the W. E. B. Du Bois medal each year.
The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research awards the W. E. B. Du Bois medal each year. By Allison G. Lee
By Cara J. Chang, Crimson Staff Writer

Seven individuals — including basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and actress Laverne Cox — will be awarded the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal, Harvard’s highest honor in the field of African and African American studies, next month.

The awards will be handed down by Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, which announced the recipients last Wednesday.

Five others will receive the honor at an award ceremony next month: Award-winning author and feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, arts patron and philanthropist Agnes Gund, Citigroup executive Raymond J. McGuire ’79, former Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78, and pioneering artist Betye Saar. The ceremony will be held on Oct. 6 in Sanders Theatre.

Abdul-Jabbar is the National Basketball Association’s all-time leading scorer and the only six-time Most Valued Player in league history. Since retiring from the court, Abdul-Jabbar has been a prolific cultural critic, writing several books on African-American history and serving as a U.S. Cultural ambassador under President Barack Obama. In 2016, former President Obama awarded Abdul-Jabbar the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Cox, the first transgender actress to be nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award, is a prominent LGBTQ+ rights activist. Since rising to fame for her performance in Netflix’s hit show “Orange is the New Black,” Cox has been nominated for Emmys in four of the last eight years.

Hutchins Center director Henry Louis Gates Jr. praised the honorees for “their unyielding commitment to pushing the boundaries of representation and creating opportunities for advancement and participation for people who have been too often shut out from the great promise of our times."

This year’s slate of honorees is the first since 2019. The Hutchins Center did not award the medal during the pandemic.

The Du Bois Medal, first presented in 2000, honors its namesake, the pre-eminent African American scholar and civil rights activist. Du Bois graduated from Harvard College in 1890 and became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1895.

Past honorees include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former U.S. Congressman John R. Lewis, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, talk show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

​​—Staff writer Cara J. Chang can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @CaraChang20.

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