Each year, seniors at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School deliver a speech to their peers on a topic of their choosing in the Newhall Auditorium. Often equal parts clever and moving, emotional and personal, each speech offers a glimpse into the lives, experiences, struggles, and triumphs of SSM seniors.
Throughout the 2018-19 school year, we will share these speeches with the SSM community and hope that you enjoy the humor, wisdom, and powerful reflections conveyed by our senior students.
My great grandpa, Robert Hicks, was many things to many people. To me he was just Paw Paw, but to many others, he was a hero. He grew up in the South during the time of segregation and decided to stand up and make a change. He became a civil rights activist. He fought for those without a voice.
Hicks lived in a town called Bogalusa in northern Louisiana. During the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, he was a member of the Bogalusa chapter of the NAACP, and a prominent member of the Deacons for Defense, an armed self-defense organization created to protect the locals from injustice. With the Deacons, he tried to make the streets a safer place for African Americans.
He not only took a stand in the streets but also in the courts of law. He participated in many legal victories. One case was a called Hicks vs. Knight. In this suit, Robert Hicks fought to have the police protect civil rights marchers instead of beating and harassing them. Another case was Hicks v. Crown Zellerbach, the local paper mill where he worked. My Paw Paw fought to integrate the mill’s upper management. He was successful in this case and became to the first black man to have a managerial role at the mill. One of his last cases was Hicks v. City of Bogalusa School Board. Even though Brown v. Board of Education had officially desegregated our nation’s schools, Bogalusa’s schools were still segregated. Luckily this case ended that.
Even this was not the full extent of his work with the civil rights movement. On one occasion, the Louisiana state government sent two white civil rights workers to help desegregate Bogalusa. Of course, these workers were not welcomed by most and could not find anywhere to stay in town. Without blinking an eye, my Paw Paw offered to let the two workers stay in his house. During dinner with the workers, there was a knock on the door. The chief of police and a deputy were there to warn my Paw Paw that there was a mob of 200 armed white men who had gathered to burn down the house and kill him and his family. Calls were quickly made, and armed black men appeared from all corner of Bogalusa to protect the house. The children hid in cars and were taken to a safe place. The house was surrounded by these brave men who scared off the mob.
Growing up, I would visit my great-grandparents’ house almost every other Sunday. What I learned from Robert Hicks was the difference between truly caring about others and the half-hearted empathy that we see in society today. My Paw Paw risked his life and the lives of his family in order to stand up for what he believed in because he truly cared. Nowadays, you see the news and everyone talks about an event for a week and then it’s forgotten. Society makes it seem like everyone cares and is aware, but those who truly care are few and far between. Luckily, there are still people out there like my Paw Paw, people who are willing to make themselves vulnerable by standing up for a cause. To them I say good luck and stay strong.