Charles Hicks of Washington, D.C., is looking forward to seeing his family's civil rights work recognized in an exhibit at the Smithsonianâ??s National Museum of African American History and Culture, set to open on the National Mall in 2016. (Photo by Deborah Barfield Berry, Gannett Washington Bureau) / Deborah Barfield Berry, Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Small communities like Bogalusa, La., often are overlooked in histories of the civil rights movement, but a new museum on the National Mall aims to change that.
Charles Hicks said it "feels good" to know his native town's civil rights contributions will be recognized by the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
"While Bogalusa is singled out, it's a symbol of the struggle that so many small Southern towns went through that people wouldn't know about," said Hicks, 68. "The stories and things that happened in Bogalusa probably happened at some point and some time in Sunflower, Miss., or some place in Alabama or Georgia or Kentucky that nobody would hear about."
Hicks' father, Robert Hicks, a legendary civil rights activist, died in 2010.
The family's involvement in the civil rights movement will be part of an exhibit at the new museum, the first of its kind. It is scheduled to open in 2016.
Lonnie Bunch, the museum's director, said it was important to include the civil rights movement, including the role played by small communities.
"We've collected oral histories and we've worked with local communities to tell those stories,'' Bunch said. "But they're not specific stories that said simply, 'We're going to tell what happened in Louisiana versus what happened in Alabama.' Rather it's part of an overall narrative to help people understand the movement itself.''
Bunch said the museum was created in part because of the civil rights movement.
"Many people began to realize that the leadership, or that people involved in the civil rights movement, were passing from the scene,'' he said.
Bogalusa's involvement in the movement was unusual because it was strictly local, said Rickey Hill, chairman of the political science department at Jackson State University.
"It didn't take its cues from the national civil rights organizations,'' Hill said. "Bogalusa was, by every measure, an exception in the civil rights movement.''
Bogalusa, located in Washington Parish, was deep in Ku Klux Klan territory in the southeastern part of the state near the Mississippi border. Blacks there began organizing in the area in the 1950s, later creating the Bogalusa Civic and Voters League.
Unlike blacks in other Southern communities, they adopted self-defense tactics, Hill said. Robert Hicks started the Bogalusa chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group of armed blacks who defended visiting civil rights workers.
"This movement started understanding right away that it had to engage in self defense,'' said Hill, a Bogalusa native who has written extensively about the movement there. "It knew it was dealing with this violence from whites... And while it engaged in nonviolent ballot activity - marches and picketing and those sorts of things - it never assumed itself to be a nonviolent movement.''
Charles Hicks recalled the February night in 1965 when friends and neighbors came armed to help protect the family after the sheriff warned them a mob was forming to lynch them and burn down their home.
Police wouldn't protect them, Hicks said.
Hicks, who lives in the District of Columbia, hopes the museum exhibit will help dispel the perception that the Deacons for Defense and Justice was a violent militant group.
"They were a self-defense group,'' he said. "If we didn't protect ourselves, we were sitting ducks.''
The Hicks family donated to the museum one of the shotguns used to protect the family and white civil workers that night in 1965, as well as a shirt worn by Robert Hicks. They also donated two hat pins worn by women who participated in the 105-mile protest march from Bogalusa to the state capitol of Baton Rouge in the summer of 1967.
In addition to his other achievements, Robert Hicks was the first black supervisor at Crown Zellerbach, a local paper mill. His work included efforts to desegregate local schools, register blacks to vote and get blacks on the police force. Born in Pachuta, Miss., he also fought for workers' rights.
The Bogalusa exhibit at the new museum also is expected to include civil rights activists Gayle Jenkins and A.Z. Young, as well as one of the first black deputies in the parish, Oneal Moore. Moore was killed a year after joining the force.
Robert Hicks' daughter, Barbara Hicks-Collins, said the exhibit offers "an opportunity for people all over the world to come in and to see that and say, 'Wow what happened in Bogalusa?'''
Read the original story: Smithsonian to honor La. family's civil rights efforts