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

Establishing a Practice

Dr. J. R. Moore, another of Dickey’s mentors, had a medical practice in Taylor just a block north of the railroad. Unfortunately, when Dr. Dickey arrived at the doctor’s home seeking advice on establishing a practice, he discovered that Dr. Moore had moved to San Antonio, leaving the colored community with no medical care. Meanwhile, Mrs. Ilah M. (Rector) Wright, a fellow Tillotson graduate, was delighted to show her old friend around her hometown. When James shared his family’s dilemma, Mrs. Wright suggested, “James, why not move to Taylor?”

Hanging his shingle in the same office his predecessor had used located at 109 ½ Main Street did not guarantee the new doctor patients. The ailments that caused African Americans’ sickness and death in the area were typhoid fever, pellagra, tuberculosis, convulsions, infant diarrhea, venereal disease, and complications from childbirth. Sadly, poverty dictated medical care only for emergency purposes. As a result, the black population suffered a higher than average mortality rate and doctors became associated with death. In addition, a stereotype persisted that white doctors received superior training to black physicians.  Dr. Dickey realized it would take time to earn his patients’ trust. Most of his potential patients worked farms several miles distant and lacked transportation to town. Dr. Dickey was the only black physician for several counties and, in fact, was one of only 140 in the entire state. He reasoned if they could not come to him, he would go to them.  

In the same month that Dickey arrived, Taylor experienced a record setting flood that severed contact beyond the town center. The same creeks that enabled abundant crops were also prone to flooding. After a hurricane crossed the Gulf Coast on September 7, the residual storm stalled between Taylor and Thrall seven miles to the east. A record 38.2 inches of rain fell in Thrall and 23 inches fell in Taylor within 24 hours. The flood washed out roads coming from Circleville in the north, Austin from the west, Elgin to the south, and Thrall in the east. Dr. Dickey grasped this opportunity to win patients since few of the white doctors were willing to trudge through the mud to provide relief to colored patients isolated by impassable or nonexistent roads. His practice had begun.
The next November, Dr. Dickey married his beloved Magnolia and brought her home to their residence at 502 Elliot Street in Taylor. The couple immediately became active symbols of the Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church. Since most of their neighbors possessed few material goods, James frequently treated patients pro bono. James would provide free prenatal care if the patient could not afford his fee because African-American infant mortality was so high. Dr. Dickey also established a venereal-disease clinic in hopes of “making each case noninfectious and, where possible, of curing it.” He charged a small fee for his services and nothing for the treatment. He took the Hippocratic oath very seriously; he denied no one his medical assistance.


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