Girard College alumni recall being part of desegregation at school 50 years ago

Now that the school is more diverse, they say 'it was worth it'

Cherri Gregg
September 11, 2018 - 7:21 pm
Brothers Theodore (left) and Charles Hicks were the first African-American students to integrate Girard College in 1968. They shared their story to students Tuesday for the 50th anniversary of desegregating the school.

Cherri Gregg | KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Fifty years ago, Girard College was changed forever when four African-American boys walked into the gates of the historic institution as students. 

Before that time, the school was limited to white males. 

It took months of protests and a Supreme Court decision to integrate the school, but they succeeded. To remember that milestone, some of those young boys returned to campus Tuesday to share their story on the anniversary of desegregating the school.

Charles Hicks was 12 years old when he started school at Girard College. He and his brother, Theodore, were named plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court case that broke benefactor Stephen Girard's will — a document that limited Girard College to white males. 

Theodore Hicks was just 8 years old when he became one of the first black students at the school on Sept. 11, 1968. Charles Hicks started the next year, but it wasn't easy.

"They did not want me to succeed. They did not want me to graduate," he recalled. "[But] Martin Luther King Jr. and Cecil B. Moore both told me in my ear that I had to graduate."

Charles Hicks did graduate in 1974 and went on to Georgetown University to become an engineer. 

He came back Tuesday to speak at his 170-year-old alma mater, which now accepts young women as well.

"Now I look around and see the diversity and it says to me it was worth it," said Theodore Hicks, who was the school's first black valedictorian in 1977.

Those who were there before integration, like former student Richard Bohner, noted that Stephen Girard was never racist.

"Girard's legacy was to help those in need," he said. While the school was all white then, it's now mostly African-American. "It's a good goal for Girard to maintain some diversity going forward."

Asked if the struggle was worth it, Charles Hicks quickly responded, "absolutely."