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Aline E. Black Hicks was born in 1906 in Norfolk, Virginia. She attended Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State University). Hicks then began working in the local school system as a science teacher in 1924. She later obtained a master of science degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1935. At the time, teaching salaries for black educators were significantly lower than that of white teachers. Hicks volunteered to bring suit against the State of Virginia to pursue higher pay for black educators. According to the petition, black high school teachers received a minimum annual salary of $699 up to a maximum annual salary of $1,105. In comparison, white high school teachers received a minimum annual salary of $970 up to a maximum of $1,900.
The suit resulted from The Norfolk Teachers Association and the Virginia State Teachers Association joining forces with the National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People to challenge the pay inequity between Black and White teachers as being a violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Thurgood Marshall, who would later become a supreme court justice, was one of the attorneys representing Hicks. The case was dismissed in 1939. An appeal was then filed on Hicks’s behalf. She was fired by the district in retaliation for filing suit. Her appeal was denied because she was no longer an employee. Hicks moved out of the area following her termination.
Undeterred, the legal team sought another black teacher willing to bring suit. Melvin O. Alston took Hicks’s place as a plaintiff. A new suit was filed in 1940. This case was also dismissed. Another appeal was then filed. On appeal, the federal appeals court ruled against the City of Norfolk; siting that its policies were discriminatory. The City refused to increase the salaries of its black teachers and appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that teacher pay was protected by the fourteenth amendment and sent the case back to the lower courts.
The City then offered black teachers a three-year phase-in plan to equalize salaries in response. The NAACP felt this offer was watered-down and tried to persuade black teachers not to accept the compromise. Black teachers voted, with a majority deciding to accept the three-year phase-in plan; seeing it as a way forward. However, some did question why a three-year phase-in was necessary, considering that the City had a budget surplus at the time.
Following the court proceedings, Hicks returned to the area and was rehired by the district.
The actions of Hicks and Austin came at significant risk for them personally and professionally. Their courage in filing suit led to equitable pay for Black teachers in the state.
Hicks retired from her role as an instructional development specialist in 1973. She died in 1974 in Norfolk, Virginia
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