Gates open again for Girard pioneer

Marie Hicks' funeral took mourners to the school she forced to desegregate.

Posted: April 26, 2007

Marie Hicks, 83, the "Rosa Parks of Girard College," circled the 10-foot wall of the school for the last time yesterday.

The hearse carrying her body led 10 of the cars from the funeral cortege in which her three sons, her daughter and others rode. It proceeded through Girard's front gate and around Founder's Hall, then briefly paused at the foot of the statue of Stephen Girard.

The procession ended at Hicks' final resting place, Beverly National Cemetery in Burlington County.

Family and friends of the Germantown woman, who died last Thursday, gathered at Girard after the burial.

Son Theodore Hicks, 48, the first black valedictorian of Girard College in 1977, said: "It was very emotional for me today to come through the gates of Girard without my mother. All of the emotions of Sept. 11, 1968, when I walked in holding my mother's hand, came back. For the first month, students were not allowed to leave the campus. I felt so alone. I wanted to go home to my mother."

Theodore Hicks, who earned a bachelor's degree in foreign studies from Georgetown University, is a self-employed legal investigator who lives in the Washington area.

Earlier in the day, during the funeral at Faith Tabernacle Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, Marie Hicks was eulogized by relatives; Dominic M. Cermele, the president of Girard College; William T. Coleman, the lawyer who with Cecil B. Moore recruited Hicks as the lead parent plaintiff in the 1965 effort to desegregate the school; and Kenneth Salaam, one of the Freedom Fighters who skipped high school classes in 1965-66 to march at Girard in protest of the ban on black male students.

Hicks' son Charles, 50, Girard's first black graduate in 1974, recently retired from the Ford Motor Co., where he was an engineer. He earned a bachelor's degree in engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He now mentors students across the country and encourages them to enter NASA's Explorer Program.

"In memory of and to carry on my mother's and others' efforts to integrate Girard College, we have formed a foundation to help Girard graduates fund their higher education," Charles Hicks said. "I don't want people to forget what those before us went through to fight for civil rights. Even though African American students are now in the majority at Girard, I want students of all colors to feel welcome."

Girard's enrollment is 726 students: 84 percent African American, 5 percent Asian, 3 percent Latino, 1 percent white, 5 percent multiracial, 2 percent other, and fewer than 1 percent unknown. (Racial descriptions are declared by parents and students.)

Hicks' daughter, Loretta Hicks Mason, 58, who earned a bachelor's degree in education from Cheyney State College, taught fourth grade in Philadelphia public schools for 35 years before retiring to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

She said yesterday, "I'm thrilled to see so many female students at Girard."

The sex barrier was broken in 1983, and enrollment is now 53 percent female.

Hicks' eldest son, Junius Jr., 57, was too old to attend Girard. He earned a bachelor's degree from Virginia State University and a law degree from Howard University. He is studying for a master's in business administration at La Salle University, where his mother earned a bachelor's degree in sociology when she was 58. She attended classes at night while working as a maid at La Salle.

Donations may be made to Girard College Development Fund in care of the Cecil B. Moore-Marie Hicks Award Fund, 2101 S. College Ave., No. 307, Philadelphia 19121-4860.


Theodore and Charles Hicks speak about their mother's life at http://go.philly.com/mariehicks


Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at 215-854-4185 or gsims@phillynews.com.

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