House may become civil rights center

Published 1:59 am Saturday, September 19, 2015

Federal government representatives were in Bogalusa on Thursday afternoon to discuss the possibility of converting the family home of local civil rights leader Robert “Bob” Hicks into a “Civil Rights and Cultural Center.”

The home is located at 924 E. Robert “Bob” Hicks St. It was the scene of a Feb. 1, 1965, showdown between the family and the Ku Klux Klan and its supporters. Two white Congress of Racial Equality members were staying in the home when the Klan showed up, demanding the family surrender them. The family refused, fearing the CORE members would be killed.

Those who met at the house Thursday included Dr. Joe Leonard, the assistant secretary for civil rights for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA); the USDA’s Candace Glover and Kimberly Strickland; USDA Rural Development Community Specialist Chris Bordelon and USDA Rural Development Amite office director Mack McCraney. They spoke with Robert “Bob” Hicks Foundation Executive Director and Hicks’ daughter, Barbara Hicks-Collins, about what the home needs to transform it into a museum. Nothing concrete was established during the meeting, but Hicks-Collins received insight as to what is required.

“This meeting was with people instrumental in helping us develop the Civil Rights Museum and Cultural Center,” Hicks-Collins said. “It is a great opportunity for getting first-hand insight toward developing the center.”

Hicks-Collins said officials in the nation’s capital are paying attention.

“I think the Civil Rights Museum is drawing a lot of attention from people in Washington, D.C.,” Hicks-Collins said. “They are here to talk with us about the possibility of moving forward in development. I think the Civil Rights Museum can educate our young people and inspire them.

“Dr. Leonard is making initial contacts and bringing staff together and having dialogue as to what is available out there.”

The family home recently earned the distinction of being added to the National Register of Historic Places. A Historical Land Marker was placed in front of the home last year by the Louisiana Office of Tourism, to honor Hicks for his contributions to the cause of civil rights. It is the first official marker for an African-American in Washington Parish.

Leonard said his office would do everything it can to make the dream of a museum a reality. He said Hicks-Collins started the momentum by making a phone call to the federal government.

“We’re in the very preliminary stages. When she called, we answered because we do think this project is worthy and should be considered,” Leonard said. “It’s important Ms. Hicks reached out to people in Washington, D.C. We’re seeing if we can assist. Secretary Tom Vilsack wants us to go in different communities. No town should be deprived of the right to use the USDA.”

Hicks-Collins and her mother, Valeria, gave the officials a tour of the seven-room home and related the historical significance of each room. Such civil rights icons as Dick Gregory and James Meredith, among many others, were frequent visitors.

Valeria Hicks said she was more than glad that no harm came to anybody on that fateful night, even though the family was targeted. CORE members Bill Yates and Steve Miller were staying with the Hicks family at the time.

“One thing was I was so happy to get my children out of here. The chief of police ordered Robert to get the people out of the house. Those white people were somebody’s children,” Hicks said. “It was against the law for whites to stay in a black home. I told Bob not to put them out because they would be killed.”