2021 Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced; Darnella Frazier Receives Special Citation [Updated]

The teenager was recognized for bravely recording the murder of George Floyd.

This May 25, 2020, file image from a police body camera shows bystanders including  Charles McMillan, center left in light colored shorts, Christopher Martin center in gray, Donald Williams, center in black, Genevieve Hansen, fourth from right filming, Darnella Frazier, third from right filming, as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was recorded pressing his knee on George Floyd’s neck for several minutes in Minneapolis.
This May 25, 2020, file image from a police body camera shows bystanders including Charles McMillan, center left in light colored shorts, Christopher Martin center in gray, Donald Williams, center in black, Genevieve Hansen, fourth from right filming, Darnella Frazier, third from right filming, as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was recorded pressing his knee on George Floyd’s neck for several minutes in Minneapolis.
Photo: Minneapolis Police Department (AP)

Darnella Frazier, the teenager brave enough to document the nine minutes and 29 seconds that Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck has been recognized with a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. The honor was announced by Aminda Marqués González, co-chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, during the Pulitzers’ live virtual ceremony on Friday, in which she noted that Frazier had earned the recognition “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice” (h/t CNN).

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For its coverage of Floyd’s murder and the uprisings that followed, Minneapolis’ Star Tribune was awarded the Pulitzer for Breaking News Reporting, for which the staff of Louisville, Ky.’s The Courier-Journal was a finalist for its hard-hitting reporting that challenged the narrative put forth by police following the killing of Breonna Taylor. Mitchell S. Jackson, a freelance contributor to Runner’s World, was awarded a Pulitzer for Feature Writing for “Twelve Minutes and a Life,” his poignant meditation on the life and murder of Ahmaud Arbery and examination of how running culture “fails Black America.”

The Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch’s Michael Paul Williams won a Pultizer for Commentary for his “historically insightful columns that led Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city’s monuments to white supremacy,” reports Poynter, while the New York Times’ Wesley Morris won his second Pulitzer for Criticism, earned by his essays “on the intersection of race and culture in America” (h/t Poynter).

The Pulitzers’ most coveted honor, the prize for Public Service Reporting, was awarded to the New York Times this year.

“The prize is awarded to the New York Times for courageous, prescient and sweeping coverage of the coronavirus pandemic that exposed racial and economic inequities, government failures in the US and beyond, and fill the data vacuum that helped local governments, healthcare providers, businesses and individuals to be better prepared and protected,” said the Pulitzers board.

As noted by CNN, the core issues guiding this year’s honors, which were delayed due to the ongoing pandemic, were those which most deeply affected Americans over the course of the past year: the coronavirus, the racial uprisings and resulting conversations about structural inequality and police violence, as well as the deeply contentious 2020 presidential election.

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“The magnitude of these stories and the pace at which they unfolded pushed many in the news business to the limits of endurance,” said Marqués González. “Much of the great work this year came against the backdrop of unfathomable loss as our colleagues and fellow citizens mourn the deaths of more than 600,000 people from COVID.”

The full list of 2021 Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists can be found on its website.

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Updated: Friday, 6/11/21 at 5:23 p.m., ET: In our excitement to share Darnella Frazier’s big honor as well as those of our fellow Black journalists, we neglected to recognize the equally worthy winners of Pulitzer Prizes in Books, Drama & Music, which this year include (per the Pulitzer website): Drama winner Katori Hall for her play The Hot Wing King, “A funny, deeply felt consideration of Black masculinity and how it is perceived, filtered through the experiences of a loving gay couple and their extended family as they prepare for a culinary competition.”

Additional honors include Marcia Chatelain, who won the Pulitzer for History for her book Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, “A nuanced account of the complicated role the fast-food industry plays in African-American communities.” Afro-Cuban artist Tania Léon won the Pulitzer for Music for Stride, “a musical journey full of surprise, with powerful brass and rhythmic motifs that incorporate Black music traditions from the US and the Caribbean into a Western orchestral fabric.”

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Lastly, the late journalist Les Payne and his daughter and primary researcher Tamara Payne won the Pulitzer for Biography for The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X, “A powerful and revelatory account of the civil rights activist, built from dozens of interviews, offering insight into his character, beliefs and the forces that shaped him.”

Maiysha Kai is managing editor of The Glow Up, host of The Root Presents: It's Lit! podcast and Big Beauty Tuesdays, and your average Grammy-nominated goddess next door. May I borrow some sugar?

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