James Lee Dickey: An Analysis of One African-American's Leadership in Jim Crow Texas

Dickey's Practice

As his practice stabilized, Dr. Dickey focused on the bigger picture. As a Booker T. Washington devotee, James Dickey did not believe racial equality would be accomplished through confrontation; instead logic and cooperation would bring it about. It was obvious to everyone in Taylor’s black community that the promises of Reconstruction were a myth. Problems in the southeast section of town included substandard housing, poor drainage, waste dumped into creeks and streams, lack of fresh water, exploitive landlords, dire poverty, violence, lack of nutrition and inadequate educational facilities not to mention state and local laws that intentionally kept African Americans voteless, voiceless, and dependent on white charity. By 1931, James Dickey decided it was time to put relationships to work.
The Great Depression devastated African Americans in Taylor as it did throughout the United States. White workers replaced Negro farm labor and railroad workers as national unemployment reached 25%. Those numbers for African Americans reached as high as 70%. Negroes sought whatever economic opportunities and public aid that was possible in urban areas. Black population increased in Taylor 61% by 1935. Housing proved inadequate so landowners in south Taylor simply moved antiquated shacks from area farms and deposited them in town with no amenities, specifically they had no electricity, no gas hookups, no running water and no sewage access. Waste was dumped into nearby waterways. Even if water lines were available, many families could not afford the $1.30 per month fee for water so they dipped buckets into nearby creeks, including “stinky branch.” As one can imagine, the unsanitary conditions created the perfect site for a disease outbreak. A full typhoid epidemic erupted in 1932. Demand for intensive treatment far exceeded what Dr. Dickey’s 3-room office on Main Street could handle. The only hospital beds available to black patients were the two located behind one of Taylor’s white hospitals. Dr. Dickey was able to appropriate an abandoned boarding house at 401 Bland St. to create a makeshift hospital for the duration of the crisis.


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