Saturday event honors Civil Rights leader

Published 8:26 am Wednesday, November 26, 2014

To see how far Bogalusa and Washington Parish have come in the struggle for civil rights, one only had to see Valeria Hicks’ broad smile Saturday as she unveiled the Robert “Bob” Hicks historical land marker at 924 Robert “Bob” Hicks St. during the March on Washington (Parish). The marker was unveiled at her and her late husband’s former home.

The festive occasion was a celebration of the life and achievements during the turbulent 1960s and culminated with the unveiling of the marker after a short march from Bethlehem Baptist Church. Approximately 75 people participated in the march.

The land marker was the first to honor an African-American in Washington Parish.

“To see people come together, both black and white, for this occasion showing love for one another is a blessing,” Valeria Hicks said. “Love is so powerful. If we had more love in the world, it would be so much better. I’m hoping the marker will bring some pride to the community. Just about everybody in Bogalusa knew my husband. I want this marker help make them proud.”

The Hicks marker was unveiled as extended family, Hicks Foundation members and close friends stood in front. The unveiling brought hearty applause from the gathering.

“Today marks another beginning, a new vision, for the people of our city and parish,” daughter and Robert Hicks Foundation Executive Director Barbara Hicks-Collins said. “This is another chapter in our history — a chapter that recognizes our history and the people who made history 50 years ago, the people who are part of history today and the people who will make history tomorrow. This chapter started with one dream and became a reality; a land marker.”

Hicks-Collins said the land marker is inspirational.

“It’s a permanent symbol, etched in stone with the hope of sparking the spirit of young people and their families as it inspires, educates and motivates each person in different ways who stand in front of or read the text of the land marker. Hopefully, this land marker will also help to revitalize people to do more for their community with a sense of love and respect for self and each other.

“This land marker will be a reminder of perseverance and determination of what is possible if you don’t give up on your hopes and dreams,” Hicks-Collins said.

Granddaughter Aisha Collins read the inscription on the front and back of the marker. She is currently training to be a psychologist in New York City.

“Paw paw focused on social change. For me, that spirit of change invoked a desire to empower people on an individual level,” Collins said.

After the unveiling, participants returned to Bethlehem Baptist for a program that included State Sen. Ben Nevers, State Rep. Harold Ritchie, Washington Parish President Richard Thomas, International Paper Bogalusa Plant Communications Manager Kalisa Hyman, Marcus Johnson from U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s office and former Coalition of Racial Equality member Ronnie Hicks.

“I grew up here, and no one told me to go to the back of the bus,” Nevers said. “No one told me I couldn’t vote. The Robert Hicks Foundation is about remembering the struggle African-American people went through.”

Nevers looked around and noted the small number of people.

“This building should be full. Our children do not remember that we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Nevers said. “Look at the recent voting we just had, less than 50 percent. I’m so disappointed in where we’re headed. We have a job to complete. I don’t know if we can do it in our lifetime, but we can work on it.”

Ritchie offered a commendation from the Legislature to the Hicks Foundation.

“Those were terrible times. I think we all agree it took courage to get us to this point,” Ritchie said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ve got to do it together.”

Thomas read a proclamation that designated Saturday as Bob Hicks Day in Washington Parish. The proclamation recognized the work Hicks accomplished fighting for justice for all.

Robert L. Hicks accepted the proclamation on behalf of the family. Greg Hicks accepted a photo of the old home.

“History tells us where we’ve been. History tells us where we’re going,” Thomas said. “How important Mr. Hicks was to the growth of Washington Parish.”

Hyman recognized IP employee and Hicks Foundation member Paul Kates for helping the Foundation get the grant for the marker from IP.

Ministers recognized during the program included Metropolitan M.B. Church Pastor M.J. Galloway, minister Edward Sartin of Mount Zion M.B. Church in Varnado, Pastor Stanley Nathaniel of Mount Moriah M.B. Church, minister Marvin Austin Jr. of Bethlehem Church, minister Keith Merrill of Metropolitan Church, the Rev. Adrien L. Berry of Faith Hope & Charity C.O.G.I.C and Dr. Raven Evans of Bethlehem Church.

Bob Hicks Foundation President Charles Hicks closed the program by thanking all those who attended.

“Everybody here has made a difference,” Charles, who is Robert and Valeria’s oldest son, said. “The movement is successful because people care. They still have hope. For all the kids who saw that land mark, that’s the hope.”

Others who participated in Saturday’s event included Bethlehem Elder Christopher Matthews, who welcomed guests and introduced other ministers; Marcelle Hanemann, who voiced remarks from the community; Lisa Frazier Page, who served as mistress of ceremonies; Jessica Richardson, who represented the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation; and Gloria Kates, who sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at the unveiling.