Funeral plans are pending for Joe R. Hicks, a longtime political and social commentator, Los Angeles community leader and civil rights activist who formerly headed the city’s Human Relations Commission and the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
His death was announced by Community Advocates Inc. (CAI). He was co-founder and vice president of the Los Angeles-based think tank, which reported that Hicks died suddenly on Sunday at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica after post-surgical complications. He was 75.
“Los Angeles has lost a brilliant Angeleno,” said former Los Angeles Mayor Richard J. Riordan, chairman of CAI. “Joe Hicks was an exemplary person who dedicated his life to activism and making Los Angeles better. I will miss him.”
Hicks was the executive director of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission from 1997 to 2001, during Riordan’s tenure as mayor.
CAI President David A. Lehrer said Hicks will be remembered “for his passion, his courage and his commitment to truthfully assessing and unpacking complicated and difficult issues.”
“He had a firm and unwavering moral compass that led him to be a voice of reason and righteousness,” Lehrer said. “He was also a man of great warmth, charm and humor. His memory will continue to guide and inspire us.”
In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Hicks co-founded and served as executive director of the Multi-Cultural Collaborative. The umbrella group for community-based leaders was created to develop programs designed to improve inter-ethnic relations in the city.
In the early 1990s, Hicks was the executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the civil rights group formed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
During his tenure at the SCLC, Hicks was also the co-chairman of The Black-Korean Alliance, an organization dedicated to easing tensions between the two ethnic communities.
Prior to joining the SCLC, Hicks was the communications director for the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He also served a three-year term as a member of the Board of Governors for the California State Bar, and was named to the California Advisory Panel to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Hicks and fellow civil rights activist Lehrer—one a Black conservative and the other a White, Jewish Democrat—joined forces 14 years ago to head CAI, where Hicks continued to speak out and offer guidance on the topics of race and community relations.
Born in Southern California in July 1941, Hicks got involved in the Civil Rights Movement as a young man during the 1965 Watts riots, initially as a militant leftist in the Black Power movement. Years later, in 1996 at Cal State Northridge, he would debate former Klansman David Duke on the issue of affirmative action.
“By the mid-1990s, however, Joe began a lengthy re-examination of his political views that resulted in dramatically altered political positions,” according to CAI. “Joe’s contemporary political views often stood at odds with the beliefs with which he was long associated, and for the past several years, he identified himself as an independent political conservative.”
Hicks regularly contributed to local, national and international print and broadcast media outlets, including NPR, Southern California Public Radio, Fox News Channel, CNN, BBC, NBC and CBS.
His opinion articles and interviews appeared in national and international publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the National Review.
In the 1990s, he was a regular co-host of then PBS-affiliate KCET’s public affairs program “Life & Times.”
At CAI, Hicks continued his collaboration with “Life & Times” via “The Kitchen Table,” a regular segment designed to address complex and controversial Southern California issues from multiple perspectives in layman’s terms.
He also hosted “The Hicks File” and “The Minority Report” programs for the web-based media outlet PJTV.com and, from 2005 to 2008, hosted a weekly show on KFI-AM in Los Angeles.
Hicks regularly wrote for “The Wide Angles” CAI’s blog, which is hosted at the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
In May 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.
Hicks’ survivors include his children, Katarina Hicks, Natasha Hicks, Jabali Hicks, Tamani Hicks-Littleton and Hasani Hicks-McGriff; and his sister, Annie Hicks-Roberts.
A public memorial service is being planned.