Editor's Note: Readers of The Kentucky Explorer have been introduced to the Rev. John J. Dickey in past issues. Remember that he was a traveling preacher throughout the eastern part of the state during the years between 1880 and 1925. He helped to establish numerous churches and at least two colleges. He was also a teacher and a newspaper editor. However, his most enduring gift to us today may well be his diary that he kept faithfully during some 50 years of his later life beginning in the 1880s. In all, over 6,000 pages written in his own hand make up this interesting digest.
In this journal of his, Dickey often wrote down accounts of events daily. Much of the material concerns his day to day life. However, during the late 1890s he began to gather family history on various families he met in his travels. We are offering these interviews to our readers in the hope that they will be appreciated in the sense that Rev. Dickey intended. These interviews were written word for word as they were given to Rev. Dickey. Nothing has been changed.
James Dixon Black
March 9, 1898
I was born in Knox County, September 24, 1851. I am a son of John Graig Black. He was born in South Carolina in 1805. He came to Nolechuckee River in Tennessee and thence to Knox County when a boy. He was a son of Alexander Black who was born in Ireland. I do not know what part of Ireland. He came to America a married man. John Gilbert, Sr., said he loaned my father $300 to start in business when he did not know whether or not he would get it back. My father brought the first wagon to Goose Creek. (I doubt this, S. E. H. ) Henry Watterson's mother was a Tennessee Black. Felix Grundy's mother was a Black. He was about the only man who could hold a hand with Henry Clay. My father died in Knox County in 1876 in his 72nd year. He was a young man when he came to Tennessee. There are a lot of Blacks living in east Tennessee where he lived. My Grandfather Black was an overseer on a South Carolina plantation. My father was a farmer on Richland Creek where I was born. He never held any office except magistrate and that was before it was elective. My father and mother had 13 children. John A. Black of Barbourville is my brother. There are three other brothers now living in Madison County, and a sister, Mrs. Alabama Hopper, in Knox. I am the youngest of the family. My mother was Clarissa Jones, born in Clay County in 1807, died in 1862. She was a daughter of Isaac Jones. We have a tradition that his father came over from France with Lafayette, fought in the Revolution, and settled on the Yadkin in North Carolina. I got this from my uncles. My oldest aunt (Black) married H. J. Jones of Williamsburg Institute. I attended the common schools. My father was an uneducated man and did not take an interest in the education of his children, which he should have. My mother died when I was 11, and my father married again. Soon after I turned 16 I left my father. I worked on a farm for $10 per month for about a year. I then borrowed money from my brother, John, and attended Greenville and Ferscuhum (?? D. S.) College, Tennessee, where I was a student three years. I completed the B. S. course and expected to return and take the A. B. course, but being in debt, I concluded not to return. I began teaching in Barbourville. This was in 1872. I studied law while teaching, and at the end of two years, 1874, I got a license to practice law. In 1875 I was elected to the Lower House of the Kentucky Legislature from Knox and Whitley counties, as a Democrat, overcoming a majority of 1,000. Dudley King was my opponent. He was nominee of the Republican party. I was not nominated. I served out my term and resumed the practice of law in Barbourville. In 1877 I was elected school commissioner, receiving the entire vote of the Board of Magistrates, though I was an opponent. In 1886 I was elected Grand Junior Warden of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky and in 1888 Grand Master. In 1892 I was appointed one of five commissioners from Kentucky to the World's Fair or Columbian Exposition with W. H. Dulaney of Louisville, Dr. Clandy of Christian County, J. W. Yerkes of Danville, and Dr. A. D. James of Muhlenburg County. One hundred thousand dollars was appropriated. Seventy-five thousand dollars was used, $20,000 returned, and $5,000 enjoined by Gross of Kentucky Restaurant, still in litigation. In 1896 I was the nominee of the Democratic Party for the 11th Congressional District, every county was largely Republican, but 367 more votes were cast for me than for Gen. Hardin in 1895 for governor, although the party was divided on the financial question in my race. I am now one of the commissioners appointed by Governor Bradley to attend the launching of the battleship Kentucky, the 24th of this month. I am a Knight Templer (in 1888 Judge B. F. Day got the nomination for Congress in the 11th Congressional District over J. A. Black and was defeated by J. H. Wilson of Barbourville. If Mr. Black had been nominated, he could have been elected. Wilson would not have run. J. J. D.) I was married in 1875 to Miss Mary Janette Pitzer of Barbourville. I have three children living, one dead.