History of the Image Awards

In 1967, the NAACP Hollywood Branch created the NAACP Image Awards. Now a primetime live special, the NAACP Image Awards is the nation’s premier event celebrating the outstanding achievements and performances of people of color in the arts, as well as those individuals or groups who promote social justice through their creative endeavors.

There is no other organization that has confronted the misuse of media to influence negative public attitudes toward race like the NAACP. As early as 1915, it organized a nationwide protest against the negative portrayals of African Americans in “Birth of A Nation.” The founding members of the Association immediately understood the power and influence of the then new media of film. The Association has also been at the forefront of the struggle for the inclusion of all Americans, regardless of race, in the entertainment industry.

In 1942, NAACP Executive Director, Walter White, worked with politicians and studio executives to establish an ad hoc committee with the major studios to monitor the image and portrayal of African Americans on the screen.

In 1955, the Mississippi Branch of the NAACP, led by Medgar Evers, filed a complaint with the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) that the local television affiliate, WLBT, presented the local news in a racially biased manner that did not serve the public interest. Finally, in 1969, the FCC revoked WLBT’s broadcast license. This, after years of litigation, marked the only time in FCC history that a television station’s license was revoked because of racial bias in programming. This sent a powerful reminder to the rest of the television industry – that we as citizens own the public airwaves.

In 1966, under consistent legal pressure from the NAACP, “The Amos & Andy Show” was taken off the air.

In 1999, the networks signed a landmark memorandum of understanding with the NAACP and the Grand Coalition greatly advancing the cause of diversity in the entertainment industry and creating a milestone by which we can measure future progress in Hollywood. Today, the NAACP through the Hollywood Bureau, and support of its membership, continues to monitor offensive and defamatory images in film and television, and its campaign for greater minority participation in the entertainment industry.

Maggie Hathaway – 1911 – 2001

Civil rights activist Maggie Mae Hathaway, co-founder of the NAACP Image Awards, was instrumental in opening the doors for Black actors and actress.

Jazz and blues singer and actress, Maggie usually portrayed sassy, witty, sexy ladies on screen. In her small parts on screen, she shined, her spunk was undeniable. She played a maid in a Warner Brothers musical short, “Quiet, Please!” where she did a hot jitterbug dance. She was a dancer in The Marx Brothers “At The Circus.” She appeared in “Cabin In The Sky,” and is noted for her sexy walk into the cabaret. In “Stormy Weather,” she was a stand-in for Lena Horne.

Maggie  often fought hard and long for the rights and inclusion of people of color, not only in entertainment, but in the community, and even in sports, specifically golf. She has a golf course named in her honor in Los Angeles, California. She also was a writer for the Los Angeles Sentinel.

Willis Edwards  1946 – 2012

Former NAACP Board member and head of the NAACP Beverly Hills-Hollywood branch, Willis Edwards was a civil rights and political activist in Los Angeles’ African American community. Willis helped launch, promoted and protected the NAACP Image Awards. He was a controversial force behind the entertainment industry.

When Willis was elected president of the NAACP’s Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch in 1982, he persuaded then-NBC President Brandon Tartikoff to nationally televise the Image Awards.

He served the NAACP as National Board Member; Trustee, Special Contribution Fund; Vice Chair of the Image Awards; member of the Executive Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee; member of the National Health Committee;chair of the sub-committee on HIV/AIDS and member of the Board of The Crisis magazine.

Willis fought a courageous public battle against HIV/AIDS, tearing down barriers to honest conversation about HIV/AIDS in communities of color. Edwards began his life in activism as a staffer on the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign and earned a Bronze Star in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He worked with Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, arranging for Mrs. Parks to sit with First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton at the 1999 State of the Union Address. He served as Vice President of Development and Planning for the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Alabama.