Lynne Wilson was about 12 years old when she began to understand her mother’s determination. In 1963, her father attempted to stop her mother from going to the March on Washington by locking all of her shoes in the trunk of his car, Wilson said.

But that didn’t stop Helena Hicks. She walked up her block in Northwest Baltimore to borrow shoes from a friend so she could join the march, Wilson recalled. The memory reminds her of how committed Hicks was as a civil rights activist.

“Her main goal in life was just to make sure that everyone was equal and treated equally. Black, white, male, female — she just believed in equality. She lived her life trying to right wrongs and injustices,” Wilson said.

Hicks died of pneumonia and complications of Lewy body dementia at age 88 on April 18.

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Hicks was widely known as a lead organizer of Morgan State University students who participated in lunch counter sit-ins at Read’s Drug Stores in Baltimore in 1955. The sit-ins, though they did not gain the same national attention as sit-ins at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960, were among the first successful student-led protests to desegregate lunch counters.

“If you live in Baltimore and know your history, the Read’s Drugstore sit-ins are considered the forerunner to what later happened, with greater publicity, elsewhere in the South,” said E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and Morgan State professor, in a 2016 Baltimore magazine article.

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Growing up in Sandtown-Winchester, Hicks was the daughter of William Sorrell, a bartender and bakery worker, and Helena Butler, a homemaker, both of whom were “deeply” involved in community activism, according to her son, Wayne Hicks. She and her two sisters served as community association presidents across the city, including Grove Park community, the Northeast Community Organization (NECO) and Gilmor Homes.

In her early years, Hicks picketed Baltimore’s Ford Theatre over its Jim Crow admission policies. She was a graduate of both Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School and the historically Black Morgan State university, where she received her bachelor’s degree in Sociology.

Her long-time friend Lucille Barnum affirmed just how “studious” Hicks always was, saying she understood the value of education.

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“We were segregation kids, if you want to call us that. So, this was something done to her parents and to her, so they be active and be about the welfare of others,” Barnum said. “Helena was a year ahead of me — she graduated in ’55 and I graduated ’56. So, in essence, she really paved the way for me to be at ease and shepherded me in a sense, while at Morgan.”

“We just became fast friends and have been best friends all these years,” Barnum added. “We just really liked each other, our friendship was sustained by mutual admiration and a continuation of values, family and serving others that we shared.”

Barnum said she was always in awe of Hicks for her political activism and furthering her education in a way that would benefit others.

Hicks obtained her master’s in public welfare and psychiatric counseling from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and her doctorate in public policy from the University of Maryland, College Park.

“I’d go to class, then to a sit-in and then come back late at night to study or edit the newspaper,” Hicks previously said to Baltimore magazine.

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Hicks went on to work at Baltimore’s Department of Public Welfare, which is now known as the city’s Department of Human Services agency. She later worked for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and retired as a director in Baltimore’s Department of Human Resources.

Her civil rights advocacy never stopped, Wayne Hicks said. “My mother, she was always fighting for something. So she, she loved it. You know, she thrived on it,” he said.

He will always remember walking and driving through the city with his mother, saying it seemed like she knew the history of every single square foot of Baltimore.

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Wilson, her eldest daughter, said Hicks always emphasized the importance of the past to understand the future.

“She was a person who cared about not forgetting history and was passionate about taking a stand against injustices so that they wouldn’t repeat themselves,” Wilson said. “People should remember that she always spoke to be heard. She was relentless in her pursuit for the betterment of others.”

A public viewing will held at Joseph H. Brown Funeral Home, located at 2140 N. Fulton Ave., on Monday, May 6, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The funeral is Tuesday, May 7 at 10:30 a.m., at the same location.

Penelope Blackwell is a Breaking News reporter with The Banner. Previously, she covered local government in Durham, NC, for The News & Observer. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Morgan State University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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