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Fri, 01.03.1936

Bobby Hickman, Community Activist born

Bobby Hickman

*Bobby Hickman was born on this date in 1936. He was a Black educator and community activist.

From St. Paul, Minnesota, Robert P. Hickman was the third child of Lillian Mattie Parks-Thomas of Fort Scott, Kansas, and Thomas Wardell Hickman of Lincoln, Nebraska. Hickman was raised in St. Paul’s Rondo Community and after high school, she served as a jet engine mechanic in the Air Force. After his discharge, he worked for Northwest Airlines, leaving the company in 1961 due to a lack of opportunity because of racism.

Later that year, he married Patricia Frazier, and they had four children together. Hickman was a man proud of his heritage and dedicated to teaching young Blacks their value and history. On his father's side, his granduncle Rev. Robert Hickman was one of the founders of Pilgrim Baptist Church. His mother, Lillian Parks Hickman, came from a family of educators and was a sister to photographer Gordon Parks. He became an activist, the voice of the Summit-University community of St. Paul.

In 1968, Hickman founded the Inner City Youth League, which he ran as executive director for 20 years. Working out of a building at the corner of Victoria Street and Selby Avenue, the organization opened a boxing ring and trained young boxers. It introduced teens to art with classes in painting and photography and taught black history, theater and music. Hickman also ran a newspaper, tutored, and sponsored forums where teenagers could question city officials before audiences of adult community members.

Hickman advocated for employment, training, and recreation programs for St. Paul's Black teenagers. He showed up at city council meetings, questioned the distribution of federal funds, protested police profiling, and lobbied for better schools. He was part of a group that started Benjamin E. Mays elementary school and ran twice for city council in the 1970s. "One of the things about activism is that you might end up everywhere and doing everything," Mahmoud El-Kati said of Hickman. "If your focus is on social justice, that takes you all over the map. Wherever there is injustice, that's where you are. So, he was like a gadfly; he went where he was needed."

Hickman reflected on his reputation in a 1978 Pioneer Press newspaper profile. "I was sort of catapulted into prominence because I was never afraid to speak my mind ... I was always the one who was willing to do something. That's probably why our image was so bad. I didn't consider myself hostile, although I probably came off that way. If we saw some social breach, we thought nothing of marching right into anybody's office." After leaving Inner City Youth League, Hickman teamed up with activist Spike Moss and worked with City Inc. in Minneapolis. He also was a man of many talents and surprises. He ran a tax business and owned the Xanadu liquor store in the Unidale Mall.

He had a baritone voice and was an amateur actor who appeared as Frederick Douglass in Juneteenth celebration performances in St. Paul too. Later in life, he discovered Buddhism and traveled to Kenya and Ghana, where he was given the name Kofi in a ceremony. In his last decade, he embraced his role as a community elder, working for the Cultural Wellness Center on St. Paul's East Side with mostly young men, including many referred by the criminal justice system. Robert 'Bobby' Hickman died on January 28, 2015, and is buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

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