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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.

Joe Dickson

His daughter, Jori Dickson Jordan, and his wife, Dr. Charlie Dickson, a former nursing professor at UAB for 20 years, said he died Saturday morning at his home, surrounded by family after many years battling cancer.

Those close to Joe Dickson described him as a caring father, a man of faith and a dedicated civil servant.

“It was like having an idol of some sort,” Jordan, his daughter, told APR. “He was a man that always spoke proudly of family — a man that always cared about his community, cared about people, cared about doing the right thing for people. He cared about doing the right thing for the state of Alabama particularly.”

Until his death on Saturday, Dickson served for 25 years as the chairman of Alabama’s Personnel Board. He was first appointed to the board during former Gov. Guy Hunt’s administration.

“He was fair and firm and just a pleasure to be associated with during the 14 years that I was on there with him,” said John McMillan, Alabama’s commissioner of agriculture and industries, who served on the Personnel Board with Dickson. Before he appointed Dickson to the board, Hunt — who was Alabama’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction — appointed Dickson as his assistant for minority affairs. That was during Hunt’s first term after his 1986 election.

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Dickson was a longtime member of the Alabama Republican Party, serving as the leader of the party’s minority outreach program, the Republican Council, going as far back as the 1980s.

But his dedication to public service and community go back much further. Born in Montgomery March 5, 1933, Dickson, his mother and his siblings moved to the Fairfield neighborhood in Birmingham in 1939 a few months after his father died when he was 5 years old in 1938, according to a 1996 interview with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s Oral History Project.

As he grew older in Birmingham, his mother worked many jobs, including a domestic, to support her family. Dickson got a job by 5th grade to help his mom and his sibling, and by 6th grade, he began selling and delivering newspapers — the Birmingham Post Herald, The Afro American, the Pittsburgh Courier, The New York Amsterdam News, The Birmingham World and The Birmingham Mirror.

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They sold for 2 cents.

“I didn’t have any problems then because I was making money,” Dickson recalled in the 1996 interview. “But, what I did with the money I made, I always had to take mine home, because my mamma needed it.”

By the ninth grade, he had “graduated” from delivering largely African-American papers to throwing “the white folks’ papers.” He hired his brother and other people to help him. He was popular, too — serving as the president of his high school class at Fairfield Industrial High School.

Years later, his mother would return that money and more, when, after a two-year stint in the Army, she helped finance his first few semesters in 1955 at Miles College, a predominately black college in Birmingham. He credited his mother with urging him to pursue an education.

“My mamma gave me two $50 bills that she had tied up in a stocking,” he recalled. ‘I came out there and I paid to get in school at Miles. Then she gave me the money to buy my first books with. But, that was an agonizing thing for me to have to be pushed to go to school and I was a leader in the class.”

There he would become the freshman class president and inject himself into the heart of the growing Civil Rights Movement.

By 1955, Dickson was one of the relatively few black people who were able to register to vote because of barriers erected by Alabama’s segregationist leaders, among them poll taxes, random literacy tests, quizzes on the state’s representation in federal politics and questions like “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?” or “How many grains of sand are there on the sea shore?”

After Dickson passed the tests — something he attributed in some part to his having grown up reading the newspaper — he helped others do the same.

“A number of people, they just wouldn’t let them pass,” he said. “It was very subjective.”

Helping other African Americans register to vote was just Dickson’s first introduction to battling Alabama’s Jim Crowe systems of segregation and discrimination. He and his fellow members of the Miles College Student Council began protesting outside Kelly Ingram Park, which was closed to black people at the time.

Their actions would grow after his graduation in 1960 and transition into the Birmingham selective-buying campaign, a 1962 act of protest that involved staggered boycotts that caused downtown Birmingham storefronts to see a massive drop in business after the black community began withdrawing their buying power. Eventually, the white-owned businesses gave in to their demands, only to revert immediately back to segregationist policies. The campaign began again.


Joe Dickson, fourth from left, gathers with Rev. Martin Luther King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth at A.G. Gastons motel in Birmingham. (Picture contributed by Jori Dickson Jordan)


“We were asking these folk, if we spending our money, we want to know why can’t our women try on the hats or why can’t they try on the clothes?” Dickson recalled. “Why do you have to have two signs for the water? You got to walk all the way back down to 4th Avenue from downtown to use the bathroom. You get on the bus, you’ve got to stand there. Nobody is sitting there. They got the sign. We just wanted to know why.”

Later, he demonstrated with Shuttlesworth, King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy while working with his longtime boss and mentor, A.G. Gaston, a local black entrepreneur and businessman who provided the first meeting space for Shuttlesworth’s Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, a group that took the place of the NAACP after it was outlawed in the state. Gaston would later pay for King’s bail after an arrest.

His wife recalled Dickson’s involvement and commitment to the movement.

“We are just extremely proud,” Joe Dickson’s wife, Dr. Charlie Dickson, told APR. “He said it’s not about how much you have. It was never about that. It was about what you can do for other people. It wasn’t about stocks and bonds. People probably think he was a rich man. He is a rich man in the sense of what he did for people.”

Dickson, who graduated with a law degree from Howard University, would go on to participate in the Civil Rights Movement as Shuttlesworth was blasted with water cannons at his 16th Street Baptist Church and King was arrested. Dickson himself was arrested at least three times throughout the movement.

Later, in the 1980s, Dickson became involved in Alabama Republican politics, leading to his time in the Hunt administration and his appointment to the Personnel Board. Having spent time as an insurance agent for Gaston’s Booker T. Washington Insurance Company, Dickson also served on the Alabama State Insurance Board and was the first black real estate agent to have a Century 21 franchise in Birmingham.

“He was one of my early heroes,” said Edgar Welden, a former chairman of Alabama’s Republican Party who was the party chief when Dickson founded the Alabama Republican Council in 1976 to represent the interest of black Republicans. “That was really the first of the modern day Republican party. Joe was one of the first trailblazers. He was one of the first black trailblazers being active in the Republican party.”

That was at a time when the Republican Party represented the interest of working black people.

“During the early years that didn’t always give him pats on the back,” Dr. Charlie Dickson said. “But he thought we should be involved in both political parties, not just one party.”

Dickson was later invited to the White House, meeting President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush. Years before, President Gerald Ford invited him to participate in a conference of state Republican Council groups. He was a strong voice for the black community within the party, his family said.

Among his many pursuits, Dickson helped keep the Birmingham World, a black newspaper founded in 1931, afloat after he bought the paper in 1990. The paper’s former editor, Emory O. Jackson, was a strong anti-segregationist and supported the integration of the University of Alabama. In 1989, Dickson took out a large loan nearing $200,000 to buy the newspaper from the owner of the Atlanta Daily World, C.A. Scott.

“Joe certainly believed in a free press and wanted to keep one of the oldest black newspapers going,” Dr. Charlie Dickson said. “He was very careful in who he endorsed who he supported. He wanted to get the newspaper out to the schools and the churches and to the community. And it was not an easy job operating that newspaper. He put a lot of his hard-earned money into keeping that newspaper going.”

Dickson and Dr. Charlie Dickson had eight children

His funeral will be  Saturday, July 28, 2018 at 12 p.m. at his childhood church, Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Fairfield, Alabama.

The public viewing will be at noon, July 27.

Jordan, his daughter, who is pursuing a career in law because of her father, said her most lasting memory of her father was his faith. He read the Bible almost daily. But he also read widely, including almost any religious text about God, among them the Koran, she said.

His favorite passage was the 23rd Psalm.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” it reads. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

“He believed in hard work,” she said. “He believed that if you didn’t have anything you needed a work ethic and believe in yourself and believe in helping others. Whatever you attempted to do, do the best at it. Always work the hardest to do the best at whatever you attempted to accomplish or envisioned you wanted to participate in.”

 

Chip Brownlee is a political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama continue surge

On Monday, 1,335 patients with COVID-19 were being cared for in hospitals statewide, the most to date.

Eddie Burkhalter

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Data from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows hospitalizations have increased since July 1. (APR GRAPHIC)

Alabama on Monday saw the highest number yet of COVID-19 patients in hospitals since the start of the pandemic, and the second-highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases on record. 

On Monday, 1,335 patients with COVID-19 were being cared for in hospitals statewide. That was 172 more COVID-19 patients than were hospitalized the previous day — and the largest single-day increase in hospitalization numbers reported by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

The last record number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama was on Friday, when 1,201 people were being treated statewide. The increase Monday is also 134 more patients than were being care for on Friday.

Friday was the sixth straight day of record-breaking COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alabama. Friday also saw the second-highest number of deaths in a single day in the state, when ADPH confirmed 35 new deaths as a result of COVID-19, nearly breaking the previous record of 37 set on May 12.

On Monday, the state also added 1,860 to Alabama’s total case count, bringing the cumulative total now to 54,768 confirmed cases. That’s the second-highest single-day increase in cases since the start of the pandemic. With 25,783 people presumed to have recovered from the virus, and at least 1,096 dead, more than half of the state’s cases, or 27,889, are presumed to be active.

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Testing has ticked up slightly in the last few weeks — Alabama’s seven-day average of tests conducted was 9,176 on Monday, 93 more than the previous high set on July 5 — but the percentage of tests that are positive continues to increase as well, a sign that new cases aren’t just due to more testing. 

The seven-day average positivity rate Monday was 16.18 percent, which was almost 30 percent higher than it was a week ago. Taking into account the Alabama Department of Public Health’s incomplete testing data on July 9 and in early April, which threw off the positivity rate, Monday’s seven-day average was the highest on record for Alabama. 

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Public health officials say that the percent of tests that are positive should be at or below 5 percent or there’s not enough testing being done and cases are going undetected. 

Madison County continues to see a surge in new cases. The county added 267 new coronavirus cases on Monday, and over the last week added 1,044 new cases, which was 70 percent more than were added the week before. Madison County’s positivity rate this week has been roughly 16 percent. 

Jefferson County followed closely behind Madison County, adding 266 new cases Monday and 1,602 cases within the last week, which was a 30 percent increase from the week before. 

In Mobile County, there were 157 new cases Monday.

Mobile County’s weekly total of new cases for the last week was 23 percent higher than the previous week. 

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Economy

Extra $600 in COVID-19 unemployment benefits ends July 26

The extra weekly unemployment payment of $600 ends later this month. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Despite surging COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Alabama and in many other states, an extra $600-per-week in unemployment compensation through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is expected to expire July 26. 

That extra money, meant to help those whose jobs were displaced by coronavirus and through no fault of their own, was made possible through the CARES Act, the federal aid program that is to continue through Dec. 31, 2020, but the extra weekly payment of $600 ends later this month. 

“At this time, the federal government has not changed or extended the FPUC program. States do not have the ability to extend FPUC,” the Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release on Monday. 

The end of the extra assistance will impact more than 25 million Americans, during a time when COVID-19 continues to spread actively through communities. 

More than $1 billion has been pumped into Alabama’s economy through the extra $600-a-week payments to Alabamians, according to the New York City-based think tank The Century Foundation.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments make up 60 percent of total unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic. 

In Alabama, 35,760 people are receiving the extra $600 a week, which totals approximately $91.7 million weekly into the state, according to The Century Foundation, which estimates that benefits to Alabamians receiving unemployment assistance will decrease by 70 percent once the extra $600 a week dries up. 

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The average current combined unemployment benefits in Alabama is $854.95 and after the end of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, the remaining unemployment benefit will be roughly $254.95.

There are also racial justice implications in the end to the extra $600 a week in aid, according to the think tank.

“Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina all have average unemployment benefits below $300 per week, as a result of both low wages and unemployment insurance rules that simply offered less protection to predominantly black workforces,” The Century Foundation’s report notes.

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In Alabama, 57 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic from March to April were women and 50 percent were white, while 43 percent were Black, while Black people make up only 27 percent of the state’s population.

The report states that the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit was intended to be a public health measure, helping workers while they stay home until it is safe to go back to work.

“Just as rushed reopenings put families at risk, eliminating FPUC now will force people to rush back to work before it is safe,” the report reads.

Job seekers can visit their local Career Center or search jobs online without cost at alabamaworks.alabama.gov

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Elections

Barry Moore receives two key endorsements

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Barry Moore, Republican candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. (VIA BARRY MOORE CAMPAIGN)

Barry Moore, candidate for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District, received two key endorsements from the Alabama First Responders Association and the Veterans Leadership Fund. Both groups made the decision to endorse Moore because of his pro Veteran, pro Law Enforcement, and Pro First Responders stance. 

“We at the Veterans Leadership Fund, an initiative at GatorPAC, are proud to endorse Veteran, Barry Moore for Alabama’s 2nd Congressional District. At VFL, we have a rich history of supporting candidates who best represent true conservative values and have served our great country. As a self term-limiting representative, a devout conservative, and a true man of the people, Barry Moore is the ideal representative for veterans and conservatives alike,” said Rob Maness, founder of GatorPAC and the Veterans Leadership Fund. 

“The Alabama First Responders are proud to endorse Barry Moore for Alabama’s second Congressional district. Alabama’s heroes put their lives on the line every day. We must protect their jobs, and make sure that their families will be covered if something tragic happens in the line of duty. Barry always voted in support of first responder legislation while he served in the Alabama Legislature. We are confident that Barry Moore will continue his support while serving in Congress,” said interim Director Brett Trimble. 

Moore responded with the following statement:

“I am very honored to receive both of these endorsements. I am a Veteran and having the support of the Veterans Leadership fund is quite an honor. I have always worked to support and defend our Veterans. When I served as the Chairman of Military and Veterans Affairs in the Legislature, I always made sure our servicemen and women were a top priority.

“First Responders are the backbone of our communities. They serve the citizens and put their lives on the line each day. When a disaster happens we can always count on these brave men and women to respond with courage and empathy. President Trump has shown great care in protecting and defending our law enforcement officers. We can’t let the Democrats attempt to defund the Police. When I’m serving in Congress, I will stand strong with the President and DEFEND our Police and first responders.”

Moore is a small businessman, Veteran, former member of the Alabama Legislature, husband, and father of four from Enterprise.

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Elections

Sessions says Alabama doesn’t take orders from Washington after Trump inserts himself in race again

Brandon Moseley

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GOP Senate candidate and former Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, released a statement pushing back against President Donald Trump’s endorsement of his opponent, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, in which he said “Alabama does not take orders from Washington.”

The blunt comments were in response to a Twitter post from Trump once again inserting himself in the Alabama Senate race.

“I’ve taken the road less travelled,” Sessions said. “Not sought fame or fortune. My honor and integrity are far more important than these juvenile insults. Your scandal ridden candidate is too cowardly to debate. As you know, Alabama does not take orders from Washington.”

This was after Trump tweeted, “Big Senate Race in Alabama on Tuesday. Vote for @TTuberville, he is a winner who will never let you down. Jeff Sessions is a disaster who has let us all down. We don’t want him back in Washington!”

Trump has called his decision to appoint Sessions as U.S. attorney general his “biggest mistake” as president.

The rift between the two former friends began in 2017 when Sessions, newly appointed as attorney general, recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation. Sessions has steadfastly defended the decision and continues to maintain that he was forbidden by U.S. Department of Justice policy forbidding anyone who was part of a campaign from investigating that campaign.

Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump in the 2016 presidential election and worked tirelessly throughout 2016 as a surrogate for the Trump campaign.

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Sessions maintains that had he not recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation things would have gone worse for Trump. As it was, his duties in the matter fell on fellow Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel.

The special counsel investigation successfully prosecuted a number of close Trump associates for various failings in their personal and professional lives, but ultimately never was able to indict the president or a member of the Trump family, and it never was able to produce tangible evidence that the 2016 Trump campaign was involved in collusion with Russian intelligence agencies to defeat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Sessions is running for the Senate seat he gave up to be attorney general.

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Tuberville has been avoiding the media since a New York Times report detailed how Tuberville’s business partner David Stroud cheated investors out of their savings and was sentenced to ten years in prison. The two had formed a hedge fund, managed by Stroud, a former Lehman Brothers broker. Tuberville maintains that he was Stroud’s biggest victim, but the investors sued Tuberville, who settled out of court.

Sessions’ campaign maintains that incumbent Sen. Doug Jones’ campaign will capitalize on the scandal during the general election similarly to how they capitalized on allegations against former Chief Justice Roy Moore to win the 2017 special election to win the Senate seat vacated by Sessions to be attorney general.

Sessions was a late entrant into the Senate campaign. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, has endorsed Sessions.

“Jeff Sessions is a good friend and a respected former colleague,” Shelby wrote. “I believe he is well-suited to return to his role as United States Senator for the state of Alabama, where I served with him for more than 20 years. He has my full support and endorsement.”

Sessions was Senator from 1997 to 2017. He was U.S. Attorney General from 2017 to Nov. 2018. Prior to his Senate service, he served the state as Alabama Attorney General, Republican Party Chairman, and U.S. Attorney under Presidents Ronald W. Reagan (R) and George H. Bush (R). Sessions was also a former assistant U.S. Attorney and a U.S. Army reserve officer. He is a native of Alabama who grew up outside of Camden in rural Wilcox County.

The Republican primary runoff is on Tuesday. In order to vote in any Alabama election you must: be registered to vote, vote at your assigned polling place, and have a valid photo ID. It is too late to register to vote in this election or obtain an absentee ballot; but if you have an absentee ballot today is the last day to return it either through mail or by hand delivering it to your courthouse absentee ballot manager’s office.

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