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“Two Cousins Walking Through Faith”
“Two Cousins Walking Through Faith”
January 30, 2010
“Two Cousins Walking Through Faith”
a life of challenge, faith and service
By Mary Pechar / Lee's Summit Tribune
Mary Scott Hicks
Tribune Photo/Fred Poese
Established on September 9, 1915 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) embodies the determination of African Americans to ensure that their story and their contribution would not be lost in American and world history. Towards that end, Woodson launched the first Negro History Week in 1926 which in 1976 became Black History Month.
February is Black History Month and this story needs to be remembered. I have always loved history and growing up in the late 1960’s I thought I knew all about segregation, the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s policy of non-violent protest that seemed to draw violence to it like a magnet.
I was raised to believe that it was the person not their color that mattered. I viewed the ‘race riots’ in my hometown with more curiosity than fear or concern. Quite frankly I was oblivious to some of what went on around me.
Mary Scott Hicks was not oblivious; she was living a life whose reality could only have come from a wildly exaggerated novel. But sadly it wasn’t…… it was real.
Mary’s father and Coretta Scott King’s (widow of Dr. Martin Luther King) father were brothers and the girls just a year apart in age grew up together forging a life long bond. As close as they were, there were differences at their core. Mary, ever feisty and ready to fight back, was often tempered and cautioned by Coretta who even at a young age showed an inner core of calm faith.
Mary was 7 when the men came to summon her step-daddy, who worked at the brickyard, to an after hours job. He did not return. After several days they found him, tied to a tree and repeatedly shot.
Mary was 11 the day that she and Coretta were going to school, around the fence to the door to be used only by the blacks. A young white boy spit on Coretta, who responded by running around the fence and scratching the child. “In those days, if a black person got out of order, there were consequences from the Klan”, Mary related. When Coretta did not return from school, they all began to look for her. Mary was the first to find her, tied up under a tree with a noose hanging above her. As Mary approached, she was grabbed from behind and tied up with the man’s shoe strings. As the men backed away from the young girls, she removed the gag from Coretta’s mouth and was told “Mary things will be alright”. Coretta’s father and his shotgun were able to rescue them.
Another consequence from the Klan happened after Mary’s mother went to the store. “The butcher sold her spoiled chicken. She took it back to the store, but he told her the chicken would be just fine for her children,” she says. “She threw that spoiled chicken down and told him to feed it to his own children.”
That night there was a burning cross in their front yard with a note that said “Take your children and leave town. Buy your chicken somewhere else.” They did.
As I listened intently to the terror inflicted by the Klan on these young girls and their families, I was amazed to realize I heard no resentment or anger, just the calm account of the horror of the times. I heard the respect for some white employers, love for white ‘god parents’ and always the firm belief that faith in God and a strong peaceful will could and would bring change and justice. I heard the story of “Two Cousins Walking Through Faith”, a play Mary has written and produced to share their story.
Despite the vile treatment of the Klan, Mary also found goodness in white people. At 14, Mary was arrested for jaywalking, jailed and brought to trial. Unable to afford a lawyer, her mother went to Mrs. Wilhite, a white woman who employed Mary. Mrs. Wilhite said she would take care of it and contacted the NAACP who sent a young lawyer to observe the trial.
The police officer arrived in the courtroom with a bandaged head and arm in a sling claiming Mary a dangerous person, the jury quickly found her guilty and sentenced her to 20 years in prison. The young lawyer rose and began to tell the jury the story he would be taking back north with him. The jury reversed itself, setting Mary free. The young lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, a decade later won the pivotal Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the case that led to the desegregation of the nation’s schools. He became a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The family moved to Dayton, Ohio where Mary met George and Elsie Mead, owners of the Mead Paper Company. They became ‘godparents’ who helped her to feel good about herself and encouraged her to continue her education.
She received a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from the University of Bronx in New York. She studied singing and voice, public speaking and marketing. Attending Moody Bible College and then the Chicago Baptist Institute, Mary became interested in the Unity religion and the non-denominational Christ Universal Temple founded by the Rev. Dr. Johnnie Coleman. She received a Bachelor of Theology and later a master’s degree in the Unity faith.
Mary had 4 children with her first husband. After their divorce she moved to Chicago where she worked two jobs as she struggled to support her children. One day Mary stopped at a local grocery for a bottle of pop and was engaged in conversation by the owner. Mr. Hicks became a good friend who wanted to help her raise her family and so they married.
In addition to raising her 4 children, Mary and Mr. Hicks adopted 9 of a family of 17 children whose mother passed away. She has over 50 grandchildren and too many great grandchildren to count.
Mary lives Coretta’s belief that “we will never be free until every child, black, white or whatever has a good education and is well fed”. In that belief and Mr. Hicks’ desire that she educate the children, she began the I Can Achieve (ICA) Ministry devoted to steering youth on a path they need; food, shelter, a rehabilitation program, education. ICA sponsored the Lee’s Summit Bears Little League football team coached by grandson Kline Minniefield.
I Witnessed the History is the working title of her book that details the challenges faced and Coretta’s deep faith. She was a natural leader, Mary explained, but in those day’s women didn’t have a voice so Martin became her mouth piece and vehicle for change. She really didn’t come to the fore front until after his assassination.
Having lived at John Knox Village for the past 7 months, Mary is deeply content. “I never thought I would retire to a place that felt so much like home” she told me. As we spoke, several gentlemen stuck their head in the door to say ‘hi’. In every case, Mary would tell me what a wonderful dancer they are. For Mary the cause has no end, but she is at peace and being nurtured as she has done for so many others.
Lee’s Summit Police seek help identifying assault suspect.