The Hickman-Parks family: generations of patriotism, activism, service

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(l-r) Gordon Parks, Bobby Hickman, Robin Hickman

As the Emancipation Proclamation was declared and the American Civil War came to an end, there was still a lot of work to do and trails to travel for the freed African slaves here in America.

It was the late 1890s when a group of approximately 40 Black families in Kentucky decided to head north, migrating to Minnesota and eventually landing in Fergus Falls. Many decided to stay and settle in Aiken County, which made them the largest influx of Black people to settle in the Midwest during that time.

This group of families was made up largely of members of the Union Army’s African American troops and were Civil War patriots. More than 180,000 African Americans served for the Union Army during the Civil War.

As reported in the Fergus Falls Journal in 1933, this group consisted of 85 people, 60 men and boys and 25 women and girls, and many went on to serve in the military during World War I. Most of the children became educated and very successful. Some wanted to travel on to Canada, while most settled in Minnesota and South Dakota.

This overall move took place in several different stages, as Blacks from the South wanted to move to the North for much better opportunities, and many from this group went to St. Paul for railroad working opportunities.

The Hickman-Parks history was provided by Robin Hickman, daughter of community activist and longtime advocate for positive growth and development for African American youth, Mr. Bobby Hickman. She is a media arts specialist who works with youth and young adults throughout the Twin Cities.

Ms. Hickman stated, “Of those first families to arrive here, the Hickman-Parks were a very powerful combination of two families, and we remain close. [There also were] the Tates, the Andersons and others. This is a beautiful, amazing story.”

Some of the well-known names in this family include Jimmy Jam Harris of Flyte Tyme Productions and Gordon Parks, photographer/actor/film director, who passed at the age of 93 on March 7, 2006. He was best known as the first African American photographer for 21 years at Life Magazine and the first Black artist to produce and direct a major Hollywood film, The Learning Tree, in 1969.

He later directed the movies Shaft and Shaft’s Big Score, and in 1970 he helped to found Essence magazine. Gordon Parks is Robin Hickman’s grandmother’s baby brother.

Robin continued, “I have worked in the media arts field for some time, and primarily with young people, because we [Black people] must remain in the field of media arts. It is very important for us to research, document, and tell our stories. That way we can maintain the accuracy of our history.

“We often find others who want to come in and do that for us, often [to] profit [from] the stories of Black people. This often makes me think of the poem by Langston Hughes, ‘They’ve taken our blues and gone.’ This poem is about people taking the best of us — be it through art, history, or just our consciousness. It is taken and then loses its authenticity.”

“We [Hickman-Parks] are a family of strong men and women, whose purpose is serving and helping other people. We had Black men in our midst who were very committed to industry, often working two or three jobs. Men like my daddy, Bobby and my Uncle Stanley Neal Frazier, who worked diligently with young people to be very courageous, and unapologetic about social justice.”

Mr. Bobby Hickman co-founded the Inner City Youth League and The City Inc., which worked with young Black men getting their lives headed in the right direction. Coming from an era when Black men would cross the Mississippi River to support one another, this family has a history of devotion to service.

“The arts and social activism kept Black people connected in the Twin Cities,” Robin Hickman said. “Young people were exposed to visions of possibilities.”

This is a family of strong, Black pioneers who fought for themselves and this country, business men and activist. Robin Hickman’s great grandparents are buried in Aiken County, and there is a small Black township there that holds many unmarked graves.

Photos available in Huffington Post, ‘ Fergus Falls First 85 Reunion Celebrates Black Role In How The West Was Won’.            

Raymond Jackson welcomes reader responses to rayjack49@yahoo.com.