Dickey, James Lee (1893–1959)

By: Olive D. Brown

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1994

Updated: October 21, 2020

James Lee Dickey, Black physician, the son of John S. and Linnie A. (Sears) Dickey, was born in 1893 in Central Texas, probably near Waco. He attended Waco public schools from 1900 to 1912 and graduated from Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson College) in Austin in 1916. For a brief time he worked as an industrial-arts teacher in Marlin. Then he entered Meharry Medical College, Nashville, Tennessee, and graduated in 1921.

He planned to go north or east to a large city to practice. But just before graduation his father died in an accident, leaving his mother with eight other children. Dickey traveled to Taylor, Texas, to talk to Dr. J. Richard Moore, the Black doctor there, but upon arrival found that Moore had moved to San Antonio. Dickey later said, "The hand of destiny guided me to Taylor, I came to stay a few years; I remained to do my life's work." He married Magnolia Fowler of Nashville, Tennessee, on November 29, 1922, and brought her to Taylor, where they worked together on many projects, including support of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the time, Dickey was the only Black practitioner in Williamson County and one of only 130 Black doctors in Texas. In Central Texas he established a medical facility that began with a three-bedroom clinic and expanded to a fifteen-bed hospital with modern surgical and obstetrical facilities. There were no other provisions for Blacks in any hospital in Williamson County except two beds in a building set apart from one hospital. Dickey discovered that there were no facilities for Blacks in Bell, Lee, Milam, or Bastrop counties. He investigated health problems among the Black population and discovered that the principle causes of death were typhoid fever, diarrhea among infants, convulsions and complications of childbirth, tuberculosis, pellagra, venereal diseases, and violence. He conducted health campaigns and established a prenatal clinic where all expectant mothers who were unable to pay could have free examinations and advice, and established a venereal-disease clinic to treat those unable to pay. Early in his career he also curbed a typhoid fever epidemic through a vigorous vaccination program.

His concerns extended to problems of segregation and emotional suppression of Blacks. Because violence was the cause of numerous deaths, Dickey, along with others, developed recreational facilities for youth. He sought assistance from White physicians and got it. In 1940 the school board bought land for a park for African Americans, and with the help of Black women in the community and donations from leading White citizens erected a building used as a community center. A major gain came when the Taylor Amusement Company opened a balcony where Blacks could attend movies. Dickey observed that "it's hard to realize how much that meant. In earlier years, for example, one man had been whipped with a pistol for simply inquiring if seats were available for Negroes." There was no direct means of reaching the Black school except by a "foot log" over Bull Branch, or over a railroad trestle. During high water children would fall off the log into the sewage-filled water and have to be rescued. Finally, through Dickey's intervention, a bridge was erected across the branch.

Dickey received many honors for his community service. He was named the year's most outstanding citizen of Taylor in 1953 by the chamber of commerce, the first time a Black man had been so honored in the community. He was also named general practitioner of the year by the Lone Star State Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical Association in 1953. Honors were bestowed upon Dickey as he lent time and expertise to service at his alma mater, Tillotson College, where the Science Building is named for him and Theodore K. Lawless, a dermatologist, and where he served on the board of trustees from 1951 to his death. Dickey died in Williamson County on May 18, 1959.

Saturday Evening Post, October 24, 1953. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Health and Medicine
  • Physicians and Surgeons
  • General Practitioners
  • Peoples
  • African Americans

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Olive D. Brown, “Dickey, James Lee,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 25, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dickey-james-lee.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994
October 21, 2020

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