NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson released the following statement on the passing of Joe Madison.
It is with a heavy heart that I reflect on the countless memories of my friend, Joe Madison, and the profound impact he made on this world. Joe devoted his life to the mission of civil rights advocacy, working tirelessly to uplift the stories of marginalized communities. He understood the power of advocacy and made it his life's mission to ensure that the rights of Black Americans were respected and protected.
Joe's life as a leader in the pursuit of social justice began to take shape after graduating from college. It was then that he began his journey as a community focused radio host to further support his career as a civil right activist for the NAACP. From Detroit to Philadelphia, to the streets of Washington, D.C., Joe spread his advocacy across the airwaves to the thousands of listeners who tuned into his show daily.
As his influence grew, he became affectionately known as "The Black Eagle" and would regularly challenge listeners to take action on the stories he'd uplift, asking the famous question; "What are you going to do about it?" There's no question that Joe stood firmly on the cause of action. Whether engaging fearlessly in volunteer work in neglected, predominantly Black communities, or leading fundraising initiatives for the preservation of Black History, Joe was no stranger to doing the work.
At age 24, Joe became the youngest Executive Director of the NAACP's Detroit branch before being appointed the organization's National Political Director from 1974 to 1978 and eventually being elected to the National Board of Directors where he served for 14 years from 1986 to 1999. In 1996, Joe was appointed chairman of the NAACP Image Awards where he promised to restore the prominence of the NAACP Image Awards. The next year, he was awarded the Chairman's Award at the 1997 NAACP Image Awards. The result of his work to preserve the legacy of the NAACP Image Awards has been seen and felt since.
Throughout his time at the NAACP, Joe led numerous voter mobilization efforts. One of the most notable included the "March for Dignity" where hundreds of volunteers partook in a cross-country activation from Los Angeles to Baltimore. These marches garnered substantial success, where thousands of signatures were collected in support of an anti-apartheid bill in Congress.
I had the distinguished honor of meeting with Joe during one of his most memorable advocacy moments. As many know, in 2021, he went on a 73-day hunger strike to encourage the passage of voting rights bills. Despite his fight with prostate cancer during his hunger strike, and knowing the health ramifications of the strike, Joe declared "I am willing to die." His dedication to the cause of voting rights and access to the ballot box for Black voters was unlike any other I've seen. I take this lesson and carry it with me, always.
Several months following his hunger strike, Madison's persistent advocacy on the airwaves played a crucial role in the passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act in the Senate. His impactful work garnered recognition from prominent figures and global leaders, including President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, President Barack Obama, and former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. As we continue to face attacks on our fundamental right to vote, it is our hope that elected leaders will carry on Joe's legacy, particularly his dedication to the preservation of the Voting Rights Act.
Joe will be missed dearly by all who loved him and were touched by his work. We thank him for his dedicated activism and forging a path to a better world for Black Americans. Our thoughts and prayers are with all in mourning during this time. May he rest in peace.