Remembering Charles W. Hicks ’74, First African American Graduate of Girard College
The Girard College community was sad to learn that Charles W. Hicks, Class of 1974, passed away on September 15, 2021 at the age of 65. Charles was a passionate supporter of Girard students, especially in STEM education, and made history as the College’s first African American graduate.
Born in Philadelphia in 1956, Charles was the second oldest of four children and began his education in the Philadelphia school district. In July 1965, Charles was recruited by prominent Philadelphia civil rights attorney, Cecil B. Moore, to be one of the original plaintiffs in the Girard College desegregation case.
Throughout three years of trials and appeals, the Hicks family faced hate mail and death threats, until federal courts ordered Girard College to desegregate in 1968 on 14th Amendment grounds. Charles’ younger brother, Theodore Hicks, and three others, William Dade, Carl Riley and Owen Gowans, became the first four Black students to attend Girard College. Charles would later also be granted admittance to Girard and went on to become its first African American graduate.
After graduation, Charles attended Morehouse College, an institution that was founded by one of his ancestors, William Jefferson White. He was accepted into their engineering dual degree program, which consists of three years of course work at Morehouse and two years at Georgia Institute of Technology. Charles emerged with degrees in mathematics and engineering.
During his years at Morehouse, Charles participated in many activities, including pledging Omega Psi Phi, Inc., Psi Chapter. After graduation, Charles relocated to Detroit to work for Ford Motor Company. He was a longtime member of the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit.
Throughout his life, Charles mentored generations of students directly and ideologically, representing a spirit of diversity and inclusion while encouraging leadership and excellence.
A career professional engineering consultant, Charles turned his passion for science and technology into opportunities for the next generation by founding STEM outreach and mentoring programs that impacted middle and high school students in districts throughout the nation as well as at Morehouse and Girard.
Charles was deeply involved in supporting the students of Girard College. He routinely visited campus as a career day speaker, developed model rocketry programs for summer camp, and mentored students in their college matriculation process, providing letters of reference and career path advice.
As a lifetime member of the Girard College Alumni Association, Charles collaborated with the Texas chapter to support a student tour to the NASA Johnson Space Center that provided exposure to careers in the space and rocket industry. He also served on the Girard College Board of Managers for six years (2005-11) and received the Alumni Association’s Award of Merit in 2016.
In honor of his mother, Charles established the Marie Hicks Award, an annual award presented to a Girard College senior for their leadership by example, commitment to courage, and achieving victory over adversity.
He also established a fund to support Girard students’ application and attendance to NASA Space Camp in Alabama.
A memorial service for Charles will be live streamed from the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church on Tuesday, October 26, 2021, with Family Time at 10:00 AM EDT and the Memorial Service at 11:00 EDT.
Planning for a virtual memorial service for the Girard College community is underway.