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Alderman's links to Jonesborough stretch five generations

W. Kenneth Medley II • Feb 21, 2019 at 12:00 AM

To say Jonesborough Alderman Adam Dickson has a deep connection to the town is an understatement.

A proud “fifth-generation Jonesboroughian,” he made his first foray into public service with an unsuccessful 2010 bid to join the Washington County Commission. Two years later he was elected to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Here Dickson answers a few questions about himself and Jonesborough.

Are you native to the region?

Certainly a native, born and raised here in Jonesborough, for local residents I have to get very technical.

There is an area west of Jonesborough here, New Victory, right beside Telford. Local folks we can get a little more descriptive. That area is also known as Shake-rag, it just depends on whom you are talking to, but that is my stomping grounds.

If I go to Kingsport or Bristol, it’s Jonesborough. Actually, fifth-generation Jonesboroughian; my father was a very proud resident of Jonesborough, Fred Dickson, his father and great-grandfather. Again just a very proud heritage here in Jonesborough, on Depot Street is where the Dicksons were and still are, so this area is home.

My mother, Evelyn Dickson, she grew up as a Madison in Bluff City, Tennessee, in Sullivan County.

Neat story, her parents had property there, they always called it along the river, which is now called Boone Lake. They had property there but when the TVA came in they bought the property, which is now the Bluff City Park.

There was a desire on the part of my grandfather to keep the family together. He moved all the family to Egypt Road, which the family place is still there, and bought enough land there for not only him, but also eight other siblings. The property was divided among the siblings. The whole place is still there on Egypt Road.

Growing up I went to David Crockett High School; I was the product of the Washington County School System. I went to Carson-Newman College in 2000 and East Tennessee State University in 2002 and my career has been here in Northeast Tennessee.

Why did you go into politics?

I always want to phrase it as public service. I have always had a desire to help people. I have always had a desire to see people’s conditions improved and my thrust, my energy has always been in the realm of service.

Former President Bill Clinton always had the phrase that the highest form of service is public service through elected office, and that resonated with me. While he was president I was in high school. You are at that particular age and to hear him make that statement, it did have an impression me. So I have always had a desire to run for public office with the intent of serving the people.

The way that I have progressed to that point is volunteering, being active in community organizations, really wanting to make my community more thriving, more vibrant. When you get to a particular place in volunteer service, serving on respective boards, there is a point in time where you have to make a decision, as I did, to run for office.

That is what happened in 2010. I decided to run for Washington County Commission. There were seven candidates for Washington County Commission and out of those seven candidates that ran; I came in sixth. That was my first run, my first loss. Two years later I ran for Town of Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Alderman and Mayor Kelly Wolfe, he led the ticket, and I was right behind him in terms of votes. It alerts you to the fact that there may be some low points and there will be some high points.

What is the history of African-Americans in politics in Jonesborough?

We have just learned here recently that there was a gentleman back in the 1870s that ran for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen here in Jonesborough, his name escapes me. I have heard, through the heritage alliance and our McKinney Center here, recent research that he ran in the 1870s.

A gentleman that owned property here in town, I think he also owned a barbershop, and he ran and lost, again (he) set the standard in running. What we do know, and we know as fact, is that Ernest McKinney, 1968, was the first elected African-American to serve on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen here in Jonesborough. The same night that Dr. King was assassinated Ernest McKinney ran and won. He served with distinction on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and would also serve on the Washington County school board and also chaired the WCSB. So in terms of local politics Ernest McKinney certainly made an imprint.

His son Kevin (McKinney) served on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and also served as Jonesborough’s first African-American mayor. Mr. McKinney, Kevin, ran unsuccessfully for state House of Representatives, came very close. What makes that significant is that not only was he an African-American, he was a Democrat. If you wish to get into partisan politics that was a major accomplishment to think that he go as close as he did in that race.

After the McKinney cycle, we see Jerome Fitzgerald. He serves and a lot of Jonesborough residents know, respect and love Jerome. Jerome served with distinction. I want to say he had about 16 years, if memory serves me right, on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

When he decided not to run in 2012 that is when I ran and of course served from 2012 to 2016. Jerome decided that he wanted to go back on the board in 2016 and Jerome won the 2016 race. I lost by 26 votes and Jerome served. Jerome is very popular here in the area and a very dear friend. He then decided he wanted to run for Washington County Commission. Jerome currently serves on the WCC, serving the Jonesborough area. He is the first African-American male to serve on the WCC. The first African-American female to serve was Mary Alexander back in 2006, she was elected. She has now passed and we miss Ms. Alexander. She was a local historian in the area.

What is some of the history of Jonesborough with multicultural relations?

You go back to the 1820s and you have The Emancipator, the Emmanuel Mission Intelligence, are these publications that focus on the abolition of slaves. Here in Jonesborough, a very proud Quaker tradition in Jonesborough. Quaker tradition very much social justice related, very human justice related.

I find that to be a very unique piece of American history, of Appalachian history, even predating William Lloyd Garrison’s publications, of course a very noted abolitionist. Jonesborough was leading the way in that regard.

I am very proud of what I would call the history of interracial cooperation in Jonesborough. I don’t want to be too fabled about that. I had a grandmother that used to tell stories about what is now Greens Hills here in Jonesborough, seeing a cross burnt.

I remember individual stories that my father would share or hear other share about prejudice instances in the past. We do not want to paint one particular perspective, but at the same time Jonesborough has had a rather strong history of black and white people working together. Particularly here in more recent history.

I would say in the last four to five decades we have seen examples of where there are characters of the Jonesborough history that have been celebrated.

What advice can you give to the people of the region going forward?

We live in a beautiful community. This region is hands-down a great place to raise a family. We have a spirit in this community that is harmonious, there is a camaraderie in Northeast Tennessee.

I hope that we will continue to embrace that spirit. I would hope that as we are looking for outside economic development to come to the area, people from different walks of life are going to come to this community. I would hope that we will receive individuals, particularly individuals that share that spirit we already possess, that spirit of harmony, of camaraderie, that spirit of those traditions that make our region unique.

There are people that come from different parts of the country, from different parts of the world, that share those traditions. We have to be intentional. I think we have to be proactive in getting to know our neighbors.

A book I like to read tells me I am to love my neighbor as I am to love myself. I would hope that we would hold true to our traditions that make us a beautiful region and then want to see that from our neighbors that come from different parts of the world to here.

Five Facts about Adam Dickson:

Dogs or Cats: Dog

Favorite music genre: secret pleasure, Jazz

Car you drive now: Subaru Legacy

Favorite subject to study: Politics and History

Favorite daytime drink: Coffee

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