(LA) Armed with a sense of duty


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Drizzt
January 15, 2003, 05:07 PM
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)


January 15, 2003 Wednesday

SECTION: METRO; Lolis Eric Elie; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 463 words

HEADLINE: Armed with a sense of duty

BYLINE: Lolis Eric Elie

BODY:
When Robert Hicks got up to speak at Gayle Jenkins' funeral last month in Bogalusa, my father whispered in my ear.

"That's the bravest man I ever knew in the civil rights movement," he said of Hicks.

Hicks and Jenkins, who were cousins, were among the leaders of the civil rights movement in Bogalusa. I wrote about Jenkins in Monday's column. But during this, the month in which the nation pays homage to Martin Luther King, I thought it appropriate to shed light on two of our state's most effective leaders.

If anyone doubts the significance of Jenkins and Hicks, they need only read Adam Fairclough's 1995 book "Race and Democracy: the Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana 1915-1972."

Welcome to 'Klantown USA'

Bogalusa was not an easy place to be a civil rights leader.

In the early 20th century, lynchings were not uncommon.

In a February 1965 article in The Nation titled "Klantown USA," Paul Good wrote that Bogalusa "has more Klansmen per square foot than this writer has ever encountered or heard of anywhere in the South."

In response, Hicks and other leaders from that part of the state formed the Deacons for Defense and Justice, a group that vowed to shoot back when fired upon.

When I asked him about his reputation for courage in the face of danger, Hicks said, "I used to be scared all the time.

"If somebody throws a .38 or a shotgun in your face, you don't know whether they are going to pull the trigger or not," he said. "That happened several times."

Hicks was unusual among civil rights leaders for carrying a weapon.

"The FBI came down there, and they wanted to take my gun," he recalled. "I said, 'You can take this gun if you give me yours.' If not, I wouldn't have had any protection."

No choice but to fight

Despite the dangers of doing civil rights work in a place like Bogalusa during a time like the 1960s, Hicks said he had little choice but to fight injustice as he did.

In studying the American Revolution, he drew inspiration from the young nation's fight against the oppression imposed by its colonial masters.

In studying the history of African-Americans, Hicks said he gained a pride that made it impossible for him to sit idly by while injustice was done.

"It was just something I felt it was my duty to do," he said. "As I got more into it, I came to realize it was worth dying for.

"When you fool around and get black pride in you, you got a problem on your hands," he said.

"As long as you are humble and willing to go along when everything is done against you, that's all right. But when you get to the point when you say it's wrong and somebody got to do right, you have to fight that battle yourself."

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Blackhawk
January 15, 2003, 05:13 PM
The sense of duty often precedes being armed and leads to it.

Art Eatman
January 15, 2003, 09:20 PM
What might be hard for many people, today, to understand is that the mix of economics--the blacks were mostly poor--and the Jim Crow gun-control laws--enforced only against blacks--made it difficult for most blacks to have guns.

On one side, then, you had numerous Klansmen, all armed. On the other you had a very few blacks who were able to be armed and thus be capable of self-defense.

Klansmen weren't very brave in broad daylight. I got out of the Army in 1958 and went off to college at FSU. I was wandering around downtown Tallahassee, one day, and came upon a KKK parade down the main drag. Maybeso 20 or 30 robed cretins. I couldn't restrain myself: I walked to the edge of the street and commented rather loudly, "Hey! Look at the form-fitting hats!"

A couple of other ex-GIs and I went down and heckled their speechifying for a while, but got nowhere. Shame. ("Kleagle! Kleagle! Smells like a beagle!" and other spur of the moment poetry.)

However, I'll always remember that, as a white guy, I could get away with it...

Art

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