Dr. Dickey Survives Coup

By Stephen D. Bowling

In the late 1880s, the city of Jackson experienced many changes.  New streets, new businesses, new residents, and renewed anticipation about the eventual coming of the railroad.  In 1880, Jackson was a town of nearly 500 people.  All that was about to change.

Rev. John J. Dickey

Dr. John J. Dickey settled in Jackson after a struggle with a lame horse.  He was on his way to the deepest reaches of the Mountains.  He never made it to his ultimate destination after stopping for the night in Breathitt’s county seat. 

Dickey established a grade school on several acres of property donated and purchased from the Cockrells and several local families.  He worked very hard to construct and operate a primary school which became Jackson’s second white school, with a small African-American school located near Highland Avenue.  

In the beginning, the school faced many difficulties, and according to Dr. Dickey, “little help could be found.”  As the years passed and Breathitt Countians saw the value of the school.  The school experienced a huge explosion of subscriptions, and the number of students grew.

Success brought further interest.  Teachers began to apply, and a staff suitable for the growing number of students was assembled.  Soon there were those who thought the policies of the school were outdated.  There were even those who wanted to replace him as the school’s director. 

The following are entries from Dr. Dickey’s Diary from the dates of the attempted takeover of the school.  We only have the story according to Dr. Dickey because Mr. Hubert left Jackson shortly after the following event.           

June 11, 1888, Monday

Today the Board of Trustees of the Academy had their regular meeting.  They elected me principal and T. S. Hubert instructor giving us authority to take the public school into the academy.  They agreed to accept the deed from me to the academy lot of three acres which I had purchased from the beginning and assume the judgment of $178— giving the Cockrell’s administral a lieu for the amount.

This is a grand day for the academy.  We gave to Brother Hubert permission to hold concerts next week for the benefit of the academy.  I reported the amount I had collected $4,051.87 and the same amount paid out.  We are hopeful of the future. 

A view of the Lees Collegiate Institute campus in 1899.

June 12, 1888, Tuesday

The Hubert movement referred to a few days ago was a plan concocted between a few individuals here to drive me out of the county in order to get possession of the academy.  Hubert was a willing tool in their hands and was to turn over the academy to them in consideration of something that he is yet to get.  Their object was publicly announced to one of my friends, James B. Marcum, that is “to starve me out.” 

As to Hubert’s reward, I can only conjecture, but time will decide.  He has cut himself loose from the Methodist ministry and must have some object in the future for which he is laboring.  The people heard of the plot and the betrayal and arose en masse and rebuked it.  I feel sorry for Brother Hubert.  His honor is gone and of course self respect is gone and the confidence of the community is gone.  He stands out with the brand of the traitor on him, defeated in the first step of his treachery. 

May heaven have mercy on him.  The bottom of the plot is not yet exposed.  It will be evident ‘bye and bye.’”

Dr. Thomas Shivers Hubert, the Georgia-born man who started preaching at 19, eventually left Jackson after the controversy at the school. He did not leave empty-handed. While in Jackson, he met and married Mollie Combs, the daughter of Wiley H. and Eliza Jane (Combs) Combs.

During his career, he preached in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. He was, at the time of his death, the oldest living graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville and was the Pastor-Emeritus of the First Baptist Church of Kissimmee. T. S. Hurbert died on April 13, 1953. He is buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in the city of Kissimmee in Osceola County, Florida.

The grave of Thomas Shivers Hubert in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Osceola County, Florida.

Dr. John J. Dickey remained the director of the school at Jackson.  He later opened a college and educated many more generations of Breathitt Countians.  He also survived two more attempts to take over the school.  The school continued in its role until well into the 1990s, before it was placed under the control of the University of Kentucky’s Community College program and later KCTCS.

Even though the school is no longer independent, its vision has not strayed from that originally forwarded by the quiet man whose horse literally stumbled him into our heritage.

© 2023 Stephen D. Bowling


About sdbowling

Director of the Breathitt County Public Library and Heritage Center in Jackson, Kentucky.
This entry was posted in Breathitt County, Education, Jackson and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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