Aline Elizabeth Black was born in Norfolk on March 23, 1906, the only daughter and third of four children of Charles Black and Ida Black. She attended the local public schools and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. In 1924, with a temporary teaching certificate, she began working in the Norfolk public school system as a science instructor. Black graduated from Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State University) in 1926 and continued her education at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, enrolling in 1931 and receiving an MS in 1935.
As an African American, Black received a substantially smaller salary than a comparably qualified white teacher. Racial disparity in salaries had been a long-standing grievance of the Norfolk Teachers Association and the Virginia State Teachers Association, which together enlisted the cooperation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to challenge the double standard as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Black volunteered to be the plaintiff in the suit, which was filed in the state circuit court in Norfolk in March 1939. The local court dismissed the case, and Black’s attorneys, chief among whom was Thurgood Marshall, filed an appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. In June 1939 the Norfolk School Board declined to renew Black’s contract in retaliation for her having sued the school system. The Supreme Court of Appeals then denied the appeal on the grounds that Black was no longer an employee and therefore lacked the standing to sue.
Black’s dismissal outraged Norfolk’s African American community and embarrassed many of the city’s white leaders. Another Norfolk teacher, Melvin O. Alston, took Black’s place as plaintiff and a new suit was filed to reopen the issue. In November 1940 the United States Supreme Court upheld an appellate court’s ruling that teacher salaries fell under the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Norfolk School Board then promised to raise the salaries of black teachers. The case Black helped initiate enjoyed partial success in establishing the principal of equal pay, but it did not establish a binding precedent in future legal battles against racial discrimination in public education and employment.
Black completed part of the requirements for a doctorate in chemistry at New York University after losing her job, but she returned to Norfolk in 1941 when the school board rehired her. She resumed teaching science at Booker T. Washington High School and remained there until 1970, when she became an instructional development specialist at Jacox Junior High School. Active in the local chapter of the NAACP and in the Education Association of Norfolk, she received the latter’s Backbone Award in 1971 in recognition of her important contribution to educational and professional equality. She retired in 1973.
Black had married Frank A. Hicks during World War II (1939–1945), and they had one daughter. Aline Black Hicks died in Norfolk on August 22, 1974, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Norfolk.