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Dedicated to education: Neighbors Michael and Marva Hickman

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Michael and Marva Hickman grew up in Pulaski County in a time of transition, both locally and nationally. Both attended the Calfee Training School and then went on to the Christiansburg Institute for their first nine years of educational instruction. These schools came into being specifically for the purpose of educating black children because, at the time, schools were segregated by skin color. In the early sixties, things began to change.

Michael Hickman, who is now universally known as Mickey, had completed his second year at Christiansburg Academy and had a decision to make.

“There was a choice,” said Mickey Hickman. “Black students could continue on and go to Christiansburg or we could transfer to Pulaski High, but you have to understand we were seeing things on TV like George Wallace standing on the school steps saying we don’t want black students to attend Alabama schools. We were hearing that we’d get beat up in the bathrooms and things like that. And so I didn’t feel welcome and didn’t want to go somewhere that didn’t want me.”

Marva Clark grew up on Robinson Tract as a self-described Tomboy who early on showed a talent for music.

“I just liked music period,” said Marva. “So my parents said when I was one year old I was singing, and so I sang from that time until now. I started piano lessons when I was three.”

Marva’s father, Leon Clark, worked as school custodian. “My dad knew a lot of people because he worked in the school system and so they were very willing to help and be of assistance to his children and so I benefited from that.”

Lillian Smith, the musically inclined principal of the Central School, talked to Leon about “Little Marva” and offered to give her piano lessons at her home on 4th street at no cost.

For his 10th grade year in high school, Mickey Hickman made the decision to attend the newly integrated Pulaski High School. “One of the reasons I went was because I was a sports enthusiast.”

In high school Mickey excelled at basketball and football. He was also part of the yearbook staff and president of the Library Club.

“I enjoyed high school,” said Mickey Hickman. “All those myths that I was worried about … it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me in my life and shaped who I am. I’m a teacher and a coach and administrator and I had role models at Pulaski High School that influenced me.”

Two of Mickey Hickman’s biggest influences were his coaches, Harold Lambert and Suzanne David, who taught social studies. While Lambert put four black players on the high school varsity basketball team at a time when this was rare, even for college basketball teams, Suzanne David kept track of Mickey’s scholastic progress.

“She made me bring my report cards around to her at every grading period and if she didn’t think it was up to my capacity, she would tell me that I could do better,” said Mickey. “She told me I could go to college.”

For her 10th grade year, Marva decided to attend Pulaski High School, as well. Her musical talent continued to grow and was given voice lessons from a Radford professor named Dr. Cloyd Zurbrigg. Her benefactor, Lillian Smith, paid for her voice lessons. Marva became president of the Pulaski High School Chorus and was named second-place winner in the vocal division of the prestigious Bland Music Scholarship Contest.

About this time, Mickey began taking notice of Marva and asked her to the PHS Winter Formal.

“She was wearing a blue gown and was just stunning,” said Mickey.

The two began dating and thought the schools had been desegregated, the movie theaters were not.

“We had to sit way up in the balcony part of the theater which was OK … it was more intimate than being downstairs,” said Mickey. “The difference was that there were two sections of balcony and where the colored section was, it was hard backs to the seats. The white section had cushioned seats and cushioned bottoms.”

This, however, did not affect Mickey’s appreciation of the cinema. He especially liked the man they call 007.

“I remember he could do everything. He could ski on one foot or pole vault or he could shoot a bow and arrow, he could fight and so I thought James Bond was the coolest,” said Mickey. “So I wanted to be that person who could do a little bit of everything well. The media shapes life, at least it did for me.”

Mickey went on to Wytheville Community College and then to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

“Ned Bane was the recreation director and so when I was going to college from ’67 to ’71 he gave me work as a referee and I worked for the recreation department and that’s how we could go on dates,” said Mickey. “I could pay for gas and things and then I worked summer jobs and saved up all the money from the wages I earned to pay my tuition at Tech. I only lived on campus one quarter because it was too expensive.”

After graduation, Mickey had the idea of going to Washington and in a Bond-like move, join the CIA. When he was offered a job as a teacher at Dublin High School, he figured he’d stay in town for a year so he be around that pretty songstress named Marva. The couple married in 1972. They have one daughter, Tristan Giselle Hickman.He gave his dissertation on Educational leadership in 2006 and from that day on became known as Dr. Michael Hickman.

His final years in the school system were spent as Vice Principal at Critzer Elementary School. In 2014, after 42 years in the school system, Mickey Hickman retired.

Marva retired in 2008 but has remains heavily engaged in the Randolph Avenue United Methodist Church, where she has been involved in musical performances for several years.

“I’ve been playing piano for church services since I was 12,” said Marva. “In 1976, we started a group called Marva and the Gospel experience. Some of the young ladies that I taught in school joined this choir and before it was all said and done, we had as many as 30 in choir. We would go to churches and sing for services and we would have an anniversary and learn this big repertoire of songs and have this big concert.”

“She has a beautiful voice,” said Mickey. “Whenever I know that she sings at church I get excited by that. I don’t know if I’ve ever told her that before. She was the main draw for me to go to church because I was Baptist, at the church on Magazine Street. She was Methodist and I’m Methodist now because she wasn’t going to become a Baptist.”

Mickey’s athletic interests have continued throughout his life. Bruce Lee inspired him to earn a Black Belt in Karate. When he was 35, he was ranked sixth in the national racquetball standings for his age group. These days, his sport of choice is Pickle Ball, which he describes as like ping pong played at ground level. Today, Mickey has around 200 trophies stored in his man cave.

Ever interested in trying something new, Mickey has turned his attentions toward working for hire as a disc jockey. His handle is The Spin Doctor.

“I’ve come around to her world, the music world,” said Mickey. “Now she can create it, I can’t. She told me not to sing in public. She said if I sing in the car to make sure the windows are rolled up.”

The soft-spoken Marva smiles at the thought but says she would never have told any of her students any such thing. Both consider themselves lucky to have the support they needed in their younger years.

“So many black people helped me out but I also had many white people that were influential in my life,” said Mickey. “I was very fortunate. I don’t know how other people moved through and made it but I was fortunate in my background in that I had such wonderful people step up and do all kinds of things for me. I still had to do the work but they opened doors for me and gave me opportunities.”

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