Barbara Hicks-Collins grew up in a Civil Rights house in Bogalusa, Louisiana. In her family breakfast room in 1965, her father, the late Robert “Bob” Hicks, founded the Bogalusa chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The armed self-defense force was formed in response to local anti-integration violence that the local police force complicitly supported.
The house became a communication hub, a safe house, and a medical triage station for injured activists denied medical services at the state hospital. After her father’s death, Barbara Hicks-Collins decided that the house has one more chapter: as the Bogalusa Civil Rights Museum.
In this episode, Barbara Hicks-Collins talks about growing up with the Civil Rights movement in her living room and describes the process, progress, and challenges of today’s Bogalusa Civil Rights Museum project.
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00:15: Barbara Hicks-Collins
00:42: Robert “Bob” Hicks
01:28: “Why Not A Museum?"
02:54: The City of Bogalusa, Louisiana
03:45: “The Civil Rights House"
04:11: The Events of February 1, 1965
05:04: The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement
06:28: Daily Life Under Threat
07:20: Bogalusa Civil Rights Museum
09:35: The Process
11:18: "It's Not Easy But It's Possible"
12:16: Learn More | Donate to the Museum
14:05: Outro | Join Club Archipelago
Barbara Hicks-Collins can describe the exact moment an idea for a civil rights museum in Bogalusa, Louisiana entered her mind.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “After Hurricane Katrina, our homes were devastated so I had to move back to Bogalusa, I was able to help my mom take care of my father, his health was failing.”
Barbara Hicks-Collins’s father is the late Robert “Bob” Hicks, a civil rights leader and founder of the first chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice. The Deacons were an armed African-American self-defense force operating in the segregated — and violently hostile towards integration — city of Bogalusa and other towns across the American south in the 1960s.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “I spent about five years with him and every waking hour we could talk, he talked to me about what he loved to talk about: the civil rights movement. When my father died, I realized that a lot of things are not permanent. And that meant to me that a lot of the history that I felt would always be here because we experienced history and it was so important for people to know why they are where they are today, and history makers — they were dying off sooner than I had expected.”
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “But I was thinking of a way — how could we preserve the history permanently — and the idea of a dream came up: why not a museum? Where you can start preserving the history, talking to some of the decedents and make a civil rights museum so this generation and generations forever would know about that.”
Today, Barbara Hicks-Collins is the director of the museum, and she joins me to talk about the process, progress, and challenges of the Bogalusa Civil Rights Museum project.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “Greetings from Bogalusa, Louisiana! I’m Barbara Hicks-Collins. I’m the museum director of the future museum which is going to be the civil rights museum in Bogalusa and I’m also one of the founders and executive director of a non-profit organization named after my father, The Robert Bob Hicks Foundation. And how are you today?”
I’m doing well! Before we start talking about the museum, we have to talk about the town of Bogalusa and the life of Robert “Bob” Hicks.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: The Goodyears came from New York and they started the paper mill here in Bogalusa and they brought in people from all over the country when they heard there was going to be a mill here. They brought them in. Then they built homes for the people to love in. And since this was 1906, of course, they are separated. So in Bogalusa, it's separated where you have the blacks and you have the whites. They build churches for blacks and churches for white. So that's how they tried to do, they said it was equal if you did it that way. Everything, so you know that story.
In the 1960s, Robert “Bob” Hicks worked and labor organized at the paper mill and lived with his wife Jackie Hicks and their children in a house in the black neighborhood of Bogalusa.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “Since our family house was known as the civil rights house because we were a civil rights family and all the civil rights workers. Anyone who came into Bogalusa, just everybody. Civil rights lawyers, they would always come to the house.
On February 1st 1965, after a series of meetings at the Bogalusa Voters League, Bob and Jackie hicks invited two white civil rights workers, William Yates and Steve Miller into their home, aware that they would not be safe in a nearby hotel because of local Ku Klux Klan activity.
Robert and Jackie Hicks sat down for dinner that night with their children, including Barbara, and their guests Yates and Miller. When they finished eating, they retired to the living room to watch television and talk over the day’s events.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Robert Hicks opened it and found the Bogalusa Police Chief standing in the doorway. He had bad news: a mob of whites had gathered nearby and they were prepared to murder the entire family and burn the house to the ground if the Hicks didn't put the white activists out. The officer added that they should expect no help from law enforcement.
As Lance Hill writes in The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement, “Bob and Jackie Hicks were levelheaded activists and they mobilized quickly; Jackie promptly called several friends for assistance. When it became known that the Hicks family needed protection, the black men of Bogalusa responded swiftly. The police officers watched line of black men — armed with shotguns and rifles—rapidly file into the Hicks house.
The mob never materialized.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “We were just an ordinary family, but we were placed here to do extraordinary things and that was to, as my daddy say, to be the voice for the voiceless. To be the person who would stand up for people who were afraid to stand up for themselves. And so that's what he did and that's what we, as a family, began to do. That's when we reached out ... well, he reached out and the leader, and they start the spirit and so men who had never stood up before began to stand up and say no to the injustice. ”
A few weeks later, after more violence in Bogalusa and on the day of Malcolm X's assassination, Robert “Bob” Hicks and fellow activists founded the Bogalusa chapter of the Deacons for Defense and Justice, headquartered in Hicks' home and made up of many of the same foot soldiers who had come forward with their guns to protect the family on February 1.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “In our breakfast room was the radio, so when people called in the communication radio, we could hear that all over the house. People called we would hear all of that. Some people were calling in for distressed. We would hear all of that. My brother was refused medical service because he shouldn’t have been at the public park which is all white.”
In this way, the house served as not only the communication headquarters, but as but a safe house and a medical triage station for injured activists denied medical services at the state hospital.
And now the house has one final use: as the future Bogalusa Civil Rights museum.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “It was my family house. I mean, that's where I grew up. That's where all the civil rights activity took place so when I walk in the house I see the family standing in the living room on Sunday morning with my father giving the Sunday morning prayer before we go to church. I see that and I see our bedrooms and I see mom in the kitchen and all of that. Then on the other hand, I see the fear, I see the struggle, I see where we had the men from the Deacons for Defense and Justice with guns all around to protect the civil rights workers who stayed at our house and to protect my father wherever he went, to protect the family. So, seeing the house in two different points of view or feeling two different ways. Based on that, I want to show in the museum what we went through as a part of the movement and then maybe they can understand how difficult it was. That this way of life was not the way it should have been for any American.”
This future museum, this house made into a museum, will interpret what happened inside and outside against the wallpaper of a domestic scene. For Barbara Hicks-Collins and her family, a closed front door didn’t close out the world around her. The radio -- which was necessary because the city would monitor and occasionally shut off the phone lines -- could come on at any moment. For all the other interpretations that the museum will present, the Klan’s threat to daily life is maybe the most powerful.
So what’s the process of getting from here to there? For Hicks-Collins, it started with making small, periment changes to Bogalusa landscape that will pave the way for the museum.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “From the idea of having a museum with the history preserved, then I started going through the process. I think the first thing that I did was to go to the zoning commission to make sure that it was zoned for a Civil Rights Museum. That was a little complicated. You have to know Bogalusa. I had people to come in to support the idea and finally they approved the area for a Civil Rights Museum. So the second thing was to rename the street where the Hicks family lived. To rename that street Robert “Bob” Hicks Street. That took some doing. Eventually, it happened and so the entire street is named after my father. By this time, we had the Robert Bob Hicks Foundation, made it a 501(c)(3) organization. And from that point we were able to move to getting a land marker and by the way, the land marker is right in front of the Hick's house. What's interesting about that is that they never had a land marker for an African American in Washington Parrish. Never. This was the first one. So we thought that was a great success.
The Robert Bob Hicks Foundation is building support through fundraisers, a small grant through the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, and volunteer efforts to physically prepare the house for the museum. Hicks-Collins also recently secured a grant from the Institute of Museums and Library Services to record interviews with members of the Deacons, civil rights lawyers, and others.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “But the whole thing that I want to say to you about this whole process and having a dream and staying on courses though is something you have to believe in because it's not easy but it's possible. It's definitely possible. It's not going to occur overnight. Just like the struggle for equality in all these little, small, country towns and in America as a whole, it didn't come overnight. So you have to be committed and you have to stay the course even though some people may not be with you, you still have to stay the course because you know the end result. You know you're going to give this generation and generations to follow something that was so valuable. If you don't go about it with that mindset, you'll lose it.
Hicks-Collins is working build the museum in time so that the few civil rights workers and foot soldiers who are still living, will be on site, giving tours and answering questions.
The museum project is entering what Hicks-Collins calls phase II: restoring the house to make it suitable for a museum: rewiring the stolen electrical system with updated codes, installing a security system, and building the Legend Gallery with surround seats in the carpark. You can find out more information about Robert Hicks and the status of the museum by visiting roberthicksfoundation.squarespace.com and you can donate to the foundation at roberthicksfoundation.squarespace.com/donate.
Barbara Hicks-Collins: “Let me tell you this. On Martin Luther King's birthday we have the ROTC students to come in and they help do the volunteer work. I started explaining to them before they started doing any work that this is going to be whose house it was and this is going to be a museum, the whole spiel there. I asked this girl, I said ... teenagers, junior, sophomore at the time, I said, "What museums have you been to?" And she said, "None." I said, "No. I mean, have you been out of Bogalusa to go to a museum anywhere? Not just in Bogalusa. And she said, "No. I haven't been. I've never been to a museum." It was ... how could that be? She was a junior. How could that be a thing, a junior, almost a senior, never been to a museum? And she worked harder than anybody else and so I just hugged her say, "So you're one of the people that I'm working for. I'm working so you can have a museum and you can let your children know that you were a part of this." That gives me more courage to come in. We need to make sure that their stories always, already, always here and what better there other than a museum?
This has been Museum Archipelago.