As the founder and director of the Black Press Research Collective (BPRC), I regularly get emails from people across the United States requesting assistance with accessing Black newspaper archives. Therefore, when I checked my email recently and observed a message that came through the BPRC site, I expected the standard request for help. However, I was surprised to receive a message from Jonathan Dickson informing me that his father, the former owner and publisher of the Birmingham World had recently passed away. It was a brief message, but, nonetheless, incredibly powerful. With the simple statement, “Just wanted to inform you that the link to the Birmingham World is not valid and that my father Joe Dickson the Owner and Publisher has passed away,” Mr. Dickson reminded me why I started the Black Press Research Collective five years ago. My goal was two-fold: First, I wanted to make sure that significance of the history of the Black Press was not lost to new generations of students and scholars. Second, I believed that developing a portal for historical and contemporary Black newspapers would help people easily identify and access them. Over the past two years, my initial goals have fallen by the wayside. Teaching obligations and requirements for tenure took me away from the BPRC. However, Mr. Dickson’s message and his desire to make sure his father’s important work and legacy is widely shared inspired me to return to the BPRC with my initial passion and commitment to recovering the history of the Black Press and the many individuals who dedicated their lives to maintaining the tradition of Black journalism. In so doing, I am honored to share the life and work of Joe Dickson.
Former owner and publisher of the Birmingham World newspaper, Joe Dickson, who demonstrated with civil rights heroes Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement before going on to become a part of former Gov. Guy Hunt’s administration and the chair of the Alabama Personnel Board, has died at age 85.
As a black child in Birmingham in the 1940s, Joe Dickson was arrested by white police officers while playing with a toy gun. He was 10. It was part of a pattern he saw all around him of black people being treated unfairly by white authorities who enforced strict segregation laws and customs in Alabama.