I have long considered the fact that quite a few of the Iota founders are still living among us today to be one of our greatest treasures – the ability to post on the wall of founders John D. Slade and Lonnie Spruill, Jr. on Facebook in the age of the Internet, and get a response is, to me, entirely awesome because the other four Black fraternities recognized by the National Pan-Hellenic Council are unable to do so. But on June 30, 2015, Albert “Bus” Hicks, one of twelve founders of Iota Phi Theta, passed away and entered Alpha Iota Omega Chapter leaving behind a great legacy – painted in brown and gold.
He was eighty-one.
In his book Iota Phi Theta: The Founding & Ascendancy – from the perspective of a founder of Iota about how one of the fastest growing Black fraternities in the country originally was conceived on the campus of Morgan State College, now known as Morgan State University just “within view of the memorial statue of Frederick Douglass” on the footsteps of Hurt Gymnasium in 1963 – John D. Slade writes about “Bus”, his time at Morgan, his activism during the civil rights movement, and the role he had played in the founding of the fraternity.
Albert L. Hicks, Jr. “Bus” was born in Baltimore, August 25, 1934 to Albert L. Hicks, Sr. and Madge Downridge during the midst of the great depression. Hunger and poverty were growing on both sides of the Atlantic. There were more than four and a half million unemployed in the United States and demonstrations were held in major cities. Food was handed out to people in bread lines and soup kitchens. Yet despite the economic conditions, Albert “Bus” Hicks and his family lived fairly well in Baltimore.
Nearly seventy-five years before the election of the first Black president of the United States, and only seventy-seven years after the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, Slade depicts the life of “Bus” growing up in Baltimore, and in a country that historically struggled with race relations:
At the time of “Bus” birth in 1934, fifty-two percent of blacks in Northern and Border States were on relief, compared with about twelve percent of whites. Blacks wanted work, but the American Federation of Labor’s organization rejected a resolution introduced by A. Phillip Randolph to end discrimination. The organization stated that no discrimination existed in the union. In Chicago, Arthur Mitchell became the first black Democrat of the 20th Century to be elected to Congress. In Washington, DC, an anti-lynch bill failed, as Roosevelt did not support it. In that year, American troops were withdrawn from Haiti.
Intrigued with history, Slade observes, “Bus” walked Morgan’s campus with a determination and confidence that was extremely natural, and pleasing:
He entered Morgan State College in 1956 and majored in History. “Bus” quickly became one of the most popular men on campus. He was well liked by other men because of his enthusiasm and daring. He was fun loving and always ready to party. The women were attracted to him because he was handsome, generous, and masculine.
Slade also writes about how he and “Bus” at one point of time had roomed together:
I had seen “Bus” Hicks as he drove his red convertible up and down the streets of East Baltimore. He was a few years older than I was and I wished I could be part of his well-dressed-guys, escorting the good-looking girls. We became associates when I moved into my first apartment right after I graduated from high school, and he was looking for a place to stay after one of his many separations from his wife.
“Bus” shared the rent with me in an apartment located a few blocks away from what is now the Iota Phi Theta National Headquarters Building, also known as Founders Hall. There we were in the small apartment. I was eighteen years old and brooding over the breakup with my high school sweetheart. While Albert “Bus” Hicks, a college man, was agonizing over his conflicts with his wife. Despite the state of both of our lovelorn minds, we talked a great deal about the racist society we had to navigate. The brutal murder of Emmett Till had caused us to ponder our own fate as we looked to the future. “Bus” Hicks could not predict the future, but he was determined that he was going to do what he could to bring about positive change for his people.
On what made him unique and really cut from a different cloth from the rest of his peers, Slade tells us why this nontraditional student, “Bus”, was still around in ’63 to see the founding of the fraternity:
It was his popularity, the stormy love affair between him and his bride, the subsequent divorce, and the fact that he always held down a job, were the reasons for his prolonged stay at Morgan and still being around in 1963 to be a founder of Iota Phi Theta.
On his activism during the turbulent 60s’ Slade writes:
Upon the arrival of the decade of the sixties, “Bus” was more than ready for the challenge in the field of civil rights. Having a keen interest in history he was also aware of history in the making as he focused in on: President Eisenhower’s signing of the bill authorizing judges to appoint referees to aid blacks to register and vote in federal elections – The “sit-in” era starting at a Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“Bus” Hicks participated in the civil rights struggle one way or another throughout the ’60s. Today he feels that Black Americans have not done a good job in motivating and pushing the younger people following them. A mistake he does not intend to make with his son Albert L. Hicks, III. Perhaps, too, this is why he was a founder of Iota Phi Theta.
In Iota, it is known that when the fraternity was only a small organization of like-minded individuals, the name commonly used to refer to the fraternity was “I Felt a Thigh”, which “Bus” most likely had something to do with. Slade writes:
Although it cannot be confirmed, it is likely that “Bus” may have had the initial idea for naming the Fraternity. He recalls telling Charles Briscoe to go to the library and get the Greek lettering closet to “I Felt a Thigh”. Knowing “Bus”, his humor, his appreciation of the female anatomy and his general “bodaciousness” at that time, it is probably factual.
Slade’s Iota Phi Theta: The Founding & Ascendancy is a remarkable read if you are a brother wanting to know better the twelve founders of Iota Phi Theta who challenged the traditional four Black fraternities at the time when many black students at colleges, in particular historically Black colleges, were fed up with being “second-class” citizens in the United States. Rest in peace, Bro. Albert “Bus” Hicks, Jr.