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A tribute to dad: Alderman recalls early days in Jonesborough

Adam Dickson sits between his mother and father in this early family photo.


Staff Writer

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When he was 4 or 5  years old, Jonesborough Alderman Adam Dickson may not have known what he wanted to be when he grew up; but it seems his father had an idea.

“The earliest memory that I have being a little boy, (my father) had an old, beat up Chevrolet truck, a black Chevy truck and he would look at me and say, ‘Son, you’re going to be a senator one of these days and when you run, we’re going to start in Memphis and we’ll work our way all the way back to Mountain City,” Dickson said recently.

Adam Dickson

“And so he saw something in me then that I didn’t even know existed. That’s my earliest memory of my father.”

Dickson’s father, Fred Venable Dickson, was born and raised in Jonesborough, and remained here to start and raise his own family.

“He had a number of jobs, but at one period he worked for an organization called the Organization of Equal Opportunity (OEO),” Dickson said. “When he passed away, he had retired from the state. He was a sign-maker for the State Department of Transportation. I guess in the ‘80s and ‘90s he would make all the signs that you would see maybe on state highways. And for Greeneville eastwards, he made the signs that you might see on the interstate. The official title was ‘Sign Technician’.”

When asked what he remembered most about his father, Dickson replied, “Supporter. Very supportive. He was very supportive of me and my activities. Anytime we had to go anywhere for say, 4-H or a Public Speaking contest or some kind of school related activity, he had no problem at all driving to Greeneville, driving to Knoxville, driving wherever. He was always supportive of my activities.”

Dickson paused a moment and added, “The typical boy is in baseball, football and basketball. I’ve always been the atypical child. I was in public speaking and 4-H and things like this. But I never felt any judgment or anything from my father.”

Just as Fred Dickson was born and raised in Jonesborough, Alderman Dickson was also Jonesborough born and bred and has seen his fair share of changes over the years.

“For me, I think what is most noticeable is that the community, and I guess particularly the black community that was here. . .  people have just passed away. At one time here on Spring Street there used to be a number of black households on Spring Street. And, you know, now those people have passed on, new people have moved in. Spring Street and the farther out you go used to be was called ‘Buzzard Roost.’ That used to be the area of town that black folks lived. Like I said, folks have now passed away and Jonesborough has just changed.”

While the changes are noticeable to Dickson, he also believes the future is bright for Jonesborough.

“For a town our size, yes, there’s a lot of positive activity going on. I think that’s what makes us attractive to folks who want to move here and stay here.

“What we’re doing here, it’s very focused, it’s very niche, very targeted. You’re seeing a lot of optimism and a lot of hope. All the townscaping, for example. It took time; there was a lot of frustration but it’s reaping dividends when we see a typical Saturday and you see a lot of people walking the street, enjoying the street.”

While Dickson has himself seen how Jonesborough has changed and grown over the years, he still carries some valuable lessons from his father.

“I was about 12 at that time. We lived in the New Victory community. That’s where I grew up,” he recalled. “There’s a store down there, Pioneer Market, it was, and still is; kind of a hangout of sorts. My father used to work for Hartman Hardware and Coalyard. He drove the coal truck for Mr. (Charles) Hartman for years. So that’s where he knew a lot of the people in Telford.

“So on this particular night, we were there to get a Coke or something and there was a bunch of fellas there who knew my father. ‘Fred, what’s going on?’

Everyone would gather around him and what not, and there was this gentleman who knew my father for years. And he came up behind him and kicked him in the behind, and said, ‘What do you say, Freddie?’

And my father turned around and called him by name, and again my father had some colorful language and said, ‘What in the hell is wrong with you?’

“’What do you mean, Fred?’

“’Kicking me like that, what’s wrong with you?’

And my dad looked at him and said, ‘. . . don’t you ever kick me again. I’m an old man. Don’t you ever kick me again.’

Now my father was one that could get along with (this) wall. If you were willing to talk to Fred, Fred would talk to you.

What I saw that night was a sense of character and a sense of dignity. That meant something; it’s always meant something to me as I’ve grown to be a man. You certainly want to be inclusive, but you do have your character. You do have your dignity.”