Michael Eric Dyson’s Black History Month All Stars

All-Star #7: Marie A. Hicks

Over the last several years in Philadelphia, we have witnessed the erection of the first monument to a Black man in our city, abolitionist Octavius Catto; the first mural to a legal and civic giant, A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr.; a community effort to rename a street from Taney — named for the Supreme Court justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision — for Caroline LeCount, Philly’s own Rosa Parks; and a school renamed from racist president Andrew Jackson to former slave-turned-educator Fanny Coppin Jackson.

Like these people, to me, the All Stars are the everyday folks who are doing the heavy lifting for their race and culture: Teachers, sanitation workers, people who work the traffic lights and run nurseries — both for kids and for your grass — the people who are clerks in local stores. They are the preachers who reach masses of people on a daily basis; the writers whose praises don’t get as well-sung as they should; the social activists who are out there trying to make a better life for us even when we don’t understand what’s at stake.

These are the people Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., referred to as the “ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth.”


Marie A. Hicks


Marie A. Hicks



Known as “the Rosa Parks of Girard College,” Marie Hicks led the effort to pressure Philadelphia’s Girard College to integrate. 

Hicks was born and raised in Harlem before moving to Philadelphia in the 1960’s with her then husband. In 1965, Hicks — upset that her sons could not attend the Whites-only school — joined Philadelphia NAACP President Cecil B. Moore’s picket lines outside of Girard. Moore also convinced Hicks to join ranks with three other plaintiffs to sue the school.

In addition to her role in the lawsuit, Hicks herself led thousands of picket lines outside the gates of the school, including one joined by Martin Luther King Jr. In May 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the school’s last appeal and that September, Hicks’s sons were two of four Black students to enter Girard College. Her younger son, Theodore, became the first Black valedictorian when he graduated in 1977.


  • Responsible for the integration of Girard College

Final word: Bernard Smiley, chairman of the Board of Directors of City Trusts that oversees Girard College: “My father was there when Dr. King came to the wall. If there were one leader of the plaintiffs, it would be Marie Hicks. Her tiny stature — she was less than 5 feet tall — and her fiery, dynamic personality made her all the more effective as the spokesperson for those trying to gain entrance into Girard College.”

More on Hicks: The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Marie Hicks, 83, the Rosa Parks of Girard College” 

Reporting by Aly Kerrigan and Ethan Young.

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