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Baltimore Civil Rights Activist Talks About Being Influenced By MLK

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BALTIMORE (WJZ)– After a long delay, a memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will officially be dedicated in Washington, D.C. on Sunday.

Ahead of the ceremony, Jessica Kartalija speaks with a Baltimore woman who was heavily influenced by Dr. King.

“A hundred buses were coming down the Baltimore-Washington Expressway every hour,” Dr. Helena Hicks explained. “So there were 200,000 people at that march.”

Hicks invited WJZ into her living room, sharing her extensive collection of magazines and newspaper clippings from an era of great change.

“I was taught I was not a second-class citizen and no matter what conditions were, it was up to us to make them better,” Hicks said. “That we couldn’t wait for anyone to hand us our rights. We had to go out there and fight for them.”

Raised in Baltimore City, Hicks remembers the first time she heard of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He was Southern Baptist and it seemed the Southern Baptists were a powerful movement for the advancement of African-Americans,” she said.

From a young age, she became an active part of the civil rights movement.

“We didn’t have the Internet, we had churches. We had churches and the NAACP,” Hicks said.

Reporter: “There were many minor efforts, leading up to the march on Washington.”
Dr. Hicks: “We had many protests before we got to that.”
Reporter: “You were an active part of that. Why?”
Dr. Hicks: “Because that’s all I knew.”

Hicks was just 20 when she and fellow Morgan State University students made history.

“We saw the way out as being education, and that’s why in 1955 I was part of the sit in at Read’s Drug Store,” she said.

On a cold winter’s day, Hicks and her friends refused to leave a lunch counter designated for whites only. Their protest worked. The drug store chain soon began serving all patrons at their 37 store locations.

“You don’t have to plan things like that. You know when you’ve had enough,” said Hicks.

With memories of the civil rights movement all around her, Hicks says she looks forward to visiting the new memorial for Martin Luther King Jr.

“We will not have 200,000 people there, like we did for the march on Washington. We will not have 15,000 people from the state of Maryland,” Hicks said.

“I will go, yes, I will go. And there will be a lot of people who will go,” she said.

President Obama will speak at the ceremony on Sunday. The dedication was supposed to take place in August but it was delayed after Hurricane Irene swept through the Washington region.

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