Black History Month: Robert “Bob” Hicks & the Deacons for Defense and Justice

BOGALUSA, LOUISIANA-- During the 60's, at the lower corner of the Mississippi border, was around 700 miles of trees and rural community, known as Washington Parish.   It was an infamous area known to be one of the most dangerous places for African Americans in the country.  Then, in 1964, O’Neal Moore became the parish's first black deputy sheriff.  Change appeared to be shining through the tree canopy.   One year, later in 1965, as the nation lost Malcolm X, O'Neal more was shot and killed by Klansmen while on patrol.  He was a 34-year-old leaving behind a wife and four daughters.  There was no protection for the African American community living in a hostile bubble of America.

February 21, 1965, a group of men began an organization to fiercely protect the citizens; the organization was called the Deacons for Defense and Justice.  The Deacons for Defense first began in 1964 in Jonesboro, Louisiana.  Bogalusa's chapter was the first affiliated chapter.

"In Washingon Parish, there is only one house of an African American that is on the national register of historic places," says Bogalusa resident Barbara Hicks-Collins.  Collins is the daughter of the late civil rights leader, Robert "Bob" Hicks.

Collins was a teenager when things started to happen, saying "Bogalusa was just a small southern papermill town.  Our house is the birthplace for the Deacons of Defense and Justice's Bogalusa Chapter.  When I look at the house, I have mixed feelings. I have a house of love with my family and then I have a house where we struggled."  Prior to Robert Hicks starting the chapter, during February 1st, 1965, two white civil rights workers visited Bogalusa.  It was a taboo for blacks to have whites staying in their house and few in the community wanted to risk the backlash.  The Hicks family invited the workers over to stay.  Barbara Hicks recalls the feeling in the town, saying, the law enforcement officers said no to us housing them and wanted us to put them out.  My dad refused because there was a mob of Klu Klux Klansmen on Columbia street. That is our main street. We knew what was going to happen, if we put them out."

Robert "Bob" Hicks and the Deacons for Defense and Justice were pioneers.  Robert Hicks passed away in 2010; he was 81 years-young.  His birthday was February 20th.  That year, the Bogalusa mayor proclaimed February 20th as Robert "Bob" Hicks day in Bogalusa.  Since then, the entire parish celebrates his life every year on his birthday.

"I am very proud and have always been of my father because he stood up. He stood up and he did what was right."

 

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