Activist Helena Hicks shares experience as a black woman during the civil rights movement

When 83-year-old civil rights activist Dr. Helena Hicks went out with her friends at Morgan State University in Baltimore in the 1950s, her friend — who passed as white — was always the one to hail the cab. The taxis wouldn’t stop for them otherwise.  

Hicks, a UMD alumna, grew up in Baltimore at the height of segregation and the civil rights movement.

“It’s a painful thing to be rejected and ignored,” she said. “It hurts when someone slams the door in your face.”

On March 30, Hicks shared her story as a black female activist to a group of roughly 30 students and community members in Stamp’s Thurgood Marshall Room. The event was sponsored and organized by the Baha’i Club and the Multicultural Involvement Community and Advocacy group.

Dr. Helena Hicks spoke at UMD March 30.

Radiance Talley, a junior communications major and president of the Baha’i Club, said the club centers around the Baha’i faith and bringing unity and peace around campus. She said Hicks’s message of activism and justice coincides with some of the Baha’i Club’s core values.

“This is not just women’s history or black history, this is our nation’s history, and this affects all of us,” Talley said. “We all need to be proactive, volunteer in our communities, serve and participate in social action and make a difference.”

As a vocal, determined woman, Hicks led many protests and sit-ins in Baltimore against segregation. For instance, when she and her friends at Morgan went into Read’s Drug Store for warmth while waiting for a bus one day, they were asked to leave. Hicks refused, and continued going into the drug store every morning, stringing more friends along until it was finally desegregated.

Photo Courtesy of Radiance Talley.

“I always thought [segregation] was stupid,” Hicks said. “It makes no sense. If you’re in business, you want everyone to come to your door.”

Hicks also discussed the role of women during social activism crusades, like the civil rights movement, and more current campaigns, like Black Lives Matter.

“Do you know who organized Black Lives Matter? Three women,” Hicks said. “Here we are, still protesting, and women are still taking the leadership roles and saying, ‘Okay world, I won’t stand for this.’”

Junita Hughus, a junior psychology major who attended the event, said women don’t always get credit in social activist movements.

“During that time, you hear a lot about the men who were leading these movements but not really hearing a lot about the women,” Hughus said. “I think it is inspiring to hear about her experiences more as a woman at that time because a lot of women don’t really get the attention they deserve as far as being activists.”

Hicks emphasized that the battle for equality has not ended.

“We’re always on the road to equality and civil rights,” Hicks said. “We haven’t gotten there yet. It may not be there in my lifetime.”

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