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.