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In 1960, Annie Burns-Hicks became Hammond's 1st black school teacher

Hammond considers renaming Maywood Elementary after city's 1st black teacher

Contributed By:The 411 News

Annie Burns-Hicks energized the fight for civil rights in her hometown

Hammond's first school board meeting of the New Year has on its agenda a proposal for the renaming of Maywood Elementary School that carries a Hammond and U.S. history lesson.

At its December 7th meeting, representatives from the Hammond Ministerial Alliance and Hammond NAACP asked the board to pay tribute to Annie Burns-Hicks, the city's first black school teacher, by renaming Maywood in her honor.

The board's action on the proposal at its January 4th meeting will include results of a survey asking for the community's feedback on the school's renaming.

Maxine Simmons, a long-time friend of the Burns family is confident Maywood will be renamed Annie Burns-Hicks Elementary School.

"She was the first one who walked through these doors to make an opportunity for the rest of you who are teachers in this system," Simmons said at that December meeting, "a colored woman who wanted to teach in the Hammond schools."

It would take a 1959 federal court case to get Annie Burns through those doors. The complaint was dropped after then Hammond school superintendent Lee Caldwell backed down on his stance that Hammond wasn’t ready for a colored teacher.

Annie Burns came to Hammond with her parents Albert and Mary Burns in 1944. She attended Maywood through junior high school and graduated from Hammond High. She graduated from Ball State Teachers College and did her student teaching at Maywood.

When she came back to Hammond and applied to be a teacher in the school district, Supt. Caldwell didn’t acknowledge her application.

Burns-Hicks daughter, Atty. Miltina Hicks Gavia said to the board, "It was 5 years after Brown v Board of Education. She came home and told grandfather that the school district wouldn't accept her because she was colored. He told her 'these walls have to come down and you're the one that is going to have to do it.'"

Grandfather was Rev. Albert Burns, pastor at Hammond’s Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

Burns’ attorney was Richard Hatcher, later to become Gary’s first black mayor. In 1960, Burns began her 40-year teaching career at Maywood.

Burns-Hicks inspired Roland Parrish to produce the documentary "The Annie Burns Hicks Story: This Wall Must Come Down." Parrish, a Hammond native, grew up with the Burns and their 13 children. Annie was the oldest.

Parrish says in the video trailer, the documentary is about the father. "When I found out Ms. Annie was still living and her mom also, I said we need to document this. After Burns sued the school district, the community like the rest of the U.S. became more engaged in civil rights.”

The film was scheduled for showing in early 2020, then COVID happened and was postponed.

Simmons said the film now has an April 28, 2022 date at Hammond Morton.

"I wanted to become an attorney because an attorney helped my mom to achieve her goals," said Atty. Gavia. "She inspired me and many others. She was a good teacher, but tough and she loved all her students."

A 2007 NWI Times article reported on her visit to a newly built Maywood Elementary during Black History Month, recounting Burns-Hicks conversation with 5th graders.

"Know that education is important and know that you can change things," said the 41-year teaching veteran as she strolled back and forth among the students. "We need you to help this world be a better place."

Burns-Hicks now lives in a retirement community in Ft. Harrison, a suburb of Indianapolis, near her daughter.

Story Posted:01/01/2022

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