During World War II - long before Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. popularized the civil rights movement - Percy Ricks Jr. was paving the way for blacks to find respect and success in the U.S. armed forces.
The Augusta resident died Sunday at the age of 82.
When war was looming in early 1941, Mr. Ricks tried to join the armed forces but was told "they had enough (blacks)."
The Army needed more men after Pearl Harbor, however, and Mr. Ricks was drafted in 1942. A lesser man might have resented that initial rejection and simply put in his time until discharge. But not Percy Ricks. Even in the days of Jim Crow and segregated armed forces, he rose quickly through the ranks.
Through perseverance and hard work, Mr. Ricks demonstrated he had talents the Army needed and within 11 months was promoted to 1st sergeant. At 22, he was one of the Army's youngest 1st sergeants and was appointed to command a black unit in the 8th Army Air Corps in Africa.
When Mr. Ricks was 26 - two years before President Harry S. Truman officially desegregated the Army - the soldier made history by becoming the first black noncommissioned officer to lead a racially integrated unit.
Although Mr. Ricks retired in 1962 as a master sergeant, the Army did not forget his service. A room in Fort Gordon's Signal Corps Museum was dedicated in his honor early this year and Mr. Ricks was there to greet his well-wishers and his legacy - dozens of soldiers and officers of all ranks and races.