Black History Month is a month that we acknowledge, but don’t really appreciate. There are thousands and thousands of stories waiting to be told, about people who stood up for what was right, despite having their lives on the line. Today, I’m sharing a very personal story—a story very near and dear to me, and my family’s heart. It’s the story of my great grandfather, Robert Bob Hicks, and the creation of the Deacons of Defense.
On the evening of February 1, 1965, Robert Hicks and his family sat down for dinner with their guests when there was a knock at the door. Before I continue with this story, these guests were two white civil rights attorneys trying to discuss the racial tension in his small town, and having white people in black person’s home in a Ku Klux Klan-infested city was already a life-threatening risk. The Bogalusa Chief of Police and Deputy Sheriff came to inform my great grandfather that a mob of two hundred white men had gathered, and were prepared to murder the entire family and burn the house to the ground if he didn’t put the white activists out, adding that those activists should expect no help from law enforcement. When Robert Hicks asked why the police wouldn’t stop these men or protect him and his family and guests, the officers replied by saying, “We have better things to do than protect people who aren’t wanted here.” As heartbreaking as this is to say, this is the kind of treatment they had been accustomed to since they were kids.
My Paw-Paw had a terrible choice to make, but he did not hesitate for a second. When one of the attorneys asked if they could stay, he said yes immediately. Some people might think it doesn’t make sense for my great grandfather to allow them to stay, but if there’s anything that was almost as bad as being an African American in a KKK-infested town, it’s supporting African Americans in a KKK-infested town. My great grandfather even remembered answering that question by saying, “We just knew that if [they] left our house, we would never see them alive again.”
The Hicks family, including the children, went into action, phoning black men all over Bogalusa—friends, fellow mill workers, church brethren—asking them to come to the house as fast as possible with loaded guns. If the police weren’t going to protect and defend them, they would come together and protect each other.
Meanwhile, the two attorneys called CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) who alerted the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Louisiana governor’s office. Once the calls were made, the children were hidden in the back of a getaway car and driven to a safe house. Within minutes, black men with shotguns began arriving from all directions. The two law enforcement officers, who remained parked outside, stared in disbelief and drove off. The angry mob never appeared, but afterward, the threats still existed. The men who came together to protect my grandfather decided to come together for good and used his house to discuss different strategies and plans they could execute in order to protect each other. It was at that point that they decided that even though they were constantly threatened and beaten up and abused, they could try to do something about it, even if it cost them their lives.
Stories like these are ones that I grew up hearing that leave an impact on me to this very day. It especially leaves an impact, because the fight is not over. When my mom drives to my grandmother’s house, we pass by confederate flags raised proudly outside of the houses we drive past to get there. I remember being in 7th grade when I saw the news that someone had tried to burn my grandmother’s house on MLK day, just because she was alive, carrying on her father’s legacy. I see and hear these stories, and I decide that this is a month I will appreciate. I will appreciate where I come from and protect my family’s story—because their story became my story. And that story is not over.
We can come together and keep that legacy moving, because we matter. Never let anyone tell you to silence your voice, or make you feel uncomfortable or unwanted. You deserve to be here, you are upholding a legacy of champions, of survivors, and of warriors. Lift your head up high and mention your ancestors and your past with pride and power, because you have the power to create a present better than they could even imagine.