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Los Angeles civil rights activist Joe Hicks dies at 75

Civil rights activist and commentator Joe Hicks at a 2015 KPCC forum on the Watts riots.
Civil rights activist and commentator Joe Hicks at a 2015 KPCC forum on the Watts riots.

The voice of civil rights activist and community leader Joe Hicks has been silenced. He died Sunday from post-surgical complications at St. Johns Health Center in Santa Monica. He was 75 years old.

Hicks was a frequent political commentator on KPCC's "AirTalk," and was a guest on the show's 50th anniversary special on the Watts Riots.

There, Hicks recalled the harsh reality for African-Americans in L.A. during the riots, and spoke of an encounter during the unrest in which Coast Guard officers used a racial epithet against him.  It's language some may find offensive.

"They drive on, they come back — it must have been like, 15 minutes later — I'm still sitting there. And I'm sure it was just for theatrical effects. The guy on the back turns the machine gun at me and he says — and I'm going to use the word that may offend some people — 'Nigga, I said get off the porch.' I was incensed, and I went inside, and I stewed, and I stewed," Hicks said.

He credits that incident with fueling his lifelong passion for political activism.

Hicks was born in Southern California in July 1941 and was a militant leftist in the Black Power movement during the Watts Riots, according to an obituary sent out by his organization, Community Advocates.

In the early 1990s, Hicks was executive director of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of civil rights group the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Hicks also co-founded the Multi-Cultural Collaborative, intended to improve ethnic relations in the wake of the L.A. Riots. He debated former Klansman David Duke at Cal State Northridge in 1996. 

By the mid-1990s, Hicks' political views had changed; he identified more as an independent conservative.

Hicks co-founded Community Advocates, which focuses on race relations. He was also the former executive director of the city of Los Angeles's Human Relations Commission, under former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, who is currently the chairman of Community Advocates.

“Los Angeles has lost a brilliant Angeleno. Joe Hicks was an exemplary person who dedicated his life to activism and making Los Angeles better.  I will miss him,” Riordan said in a statement.