Topics: Alumni, Awards, President, Teachers College

August 19, 2022

Annie Burns-Hicks, Geoffrey S. Mearns

A Ball State University graduate who became a pioneering Black educator and champion of civil rights in Indiana has received one of the University’s highest honors. 

Annie Burns-Hicks received the President’s Medal of Distinction from Ball State President Geoffrey S. Mearns in recognition of her historic legal battle to become the first Black school teacher in Hammond, Indiana. 

President Mearns awarded the medal to Ms. Burns-Hicks at the end of his Fall Convocation address, which he delivered Friday morning at Emens Auditorium. The annual speech is President Mearns’ opportunity to usher in the new academic year by highlighting successes that build on Ball State’s reputation for excellence. This year, those successes include an increase in freshmen enrollment, record-breaking fundraising results, and welcoming 81 new full-time faculty members to campus when classes resume on Monday. 

President Mearns concluded his remarks by sharing with faculty and staff the story of Ms. Burns-Hicks, 85, whose courage and integrity exemplify the enduring values of the University. 

“Annie overcame extraordinary obstacles to pursue her passion of becoming a teacher,” President Mearns said. “Awarding her this medal was a way for me, on behalf of our University, to honor her significant and unselfish contributions to her community and to our State.” 

Ms. Burns-Hicks graduated from Ball State Teachers College in 1958. When she returned home to Hammond to teach, she was informed by school officials that the city “wasn’t ready for a colored teacher.” Ms. Burns-Hicks decided to sue the school district in federal court and won a legal battle to become Hammond’s first Black teacher in 1960. 

Earlier this year, Hammond school officials approved the renaming of Maywood Elementary—where Ms. Burns-Hicks attended school and taught for more than 40 years—as the Annie Burns-Hicks Elementary School. 

President Mearns said Ms. Burns-Hicks’ legacy endures in the lives of the thousands of students who were impacted by her life story and by her teaching in the classroom. 

“She has left the school where she taught—and the community in which she was raised—in a much better place. And she is an enduring source of inspiration for all of us,” he said.