The singer was honoured with the humanitarian prize at this year’s event, with former first lady Michelle Obama among those paying tribute.
The 20th annual ceremony, which celebrates Black artists, took place virtually against the backdrop of sweeping protests against racial inequality and a still-raging pandemic.
During her rousing acceptance speech, delivered via a video address,Beyoncé praised protesters who took to the streets following the death of George Floyd and urged people to vote ahead of November’s presidential election.
She said: “I want to dedicate this award to all of my brothers out there, all of my sisters out there inspiring me, marching and fighting for change. Your voices are being heard and you’re proving to our ancestors that their struggles were not in vain.
“Now, we have one more thing we need to do to walk in our true power and that is to vote. I am encouraging you to continue to take action, continue to change and dismantle a racist and unequal system.
“We have to continue to do this together, continue to fight for each other and lift each other up because there are people banking on us staying at home during local elections and primaries happening in states across the country.
“We have to vote like our life depends on it, because it does. So please continue to be the change you want to see.”
In her glowing tribute, Obama described Beyoncé as an inspiration.
She said: “You can see it in everything she does, from her music that gives voice to black joy and black pain, to her activism that demands justice for black lives.
“And no matter how big the stages get, I know my girl isn’t satisfied unless she’s sharing all that shine she has with the next generation.”
Due to coronavirus, awards show organisers Black Entertainment Television (BET) eschewed the usual format of packing fans and stars into a venue in favour of having performances pre-recorded.
Comedian Amanda Seales anchored proceedings from a home studio.
The show was opened by Keedron Bryant, the 12-year-old boy whose stirring protest song following the death of George Floyd earned him a record deal with a major label earlier this month.
He performed his track I Just Wanna Live before some of the biggest names in hip-hop united for a performance of Public Enemy’s 1989 anthem Fight The Power.
Nas, Chuck D, Black Thought, Rapsody and YG all featured, adapting the words of the song to reflect the current turmoil, including a reference to Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead by police in Louisville, Kentucky, in March.
Fury against police treatment of Black people was a recurring theme of the ceremony.
For a performance of his UK number one single Rockstar, rapper DaBaby was surrounded by protesters holding slogans in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, while others wore T-shirts bearing the names of Black people killed by police.
He began with a nod to the death of George Floyd, adding a new intro to the song rapped while he was on the floor with a police officer’s knee on his neck.
The performance was dedicated to the “lives lost to racism and police brutality”.
While the prize-giving took a backseat to the overall message, artists were still celebrated.
Breakthrough rapper Roddy Ricch won Album of the Year for his debut effort Please Excuse Me For Being Antisocial, adding to his Best New Artist prize.
Lizzo was named Best Female R&B/Pop Artist while Best International Act went to Nigeria’s Burna Boy. He won in a category also containing British stars Dave and Stormzy.
Music video of the Year was awarded to DJ Khaled, John Legend and the late Nipsey Hussle for their accompaniment to the song Higher.
The in memoriam segment of the ceremony featured high-profile figures including hip-hop stars Juice Wrld and Pop Smoke, who both died over the previous 12 months.
Rapper Lil Wayne rapped a tribute to basketball star Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in January.
Singer and comedian Wayne Brady performed a tribute to rock and roll pioneer Little Richard, who died in May at the age of 87.
Additional reporting by PA.