A couple weeks ago I wrote about Judge Nathaniel R. Jones, who rose from early years in Smoky Hollow to serve as a justice on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth District. In writing that story, I began to learn about his mentor, J. Maynard Dickerson. As I learned more about him, I discovered an equally distinguished career as a civil rights leader, publisher, attorney and city prosecutor in Youngstown, and civil servant in Ohio’s State government.
J. Maynard Dickerson was born in Hamilton, Ohio July 9, 1899. He came to Youngstown as a youth, graduating from The Rayen School before going on to The Ohio State University. He then pursued legal studies at the Youngstown College of Law and was admitted to the bar in 1930. He married Virginia Hall in 1933 and they were together until his passing.
After two stints as an assistant prosecutor (1928-1936 and 1939-1942), he was named the first black city prosecutor of Youngstown in 1943. During his legal studies, he ran a printing business, and out of this launched The Buckeye Review, a local weekly newspaper covering the black community in Youngstown at a time when The Vindicator gave very limited coverage. Nathaniel R. Jones mother came to work for him as a subscription manager, and this led to Nathaniel’s association with Dickerson.
Dickerson first gave him the opportunity to write sports columns. He was a tough editor, marking up his columns with red ink so that they looked “like something chickens had a fight over.” But he explained why every correction he made mattered as well as grooming him in speaking and public behavior. Dickerson was a local officer and president (later state president) of the NAACP. A number of national speakers came to Youngstown to speak, and Dickerson always made sure Jones was at his side to learn from, and establish a relationship with these leaders. Jones served as president of the NAACP Youth Council and was alongside Dickerson in his civil rights advocacy. Later, Dickerson helped advocate for his appointment by Robert Kennedy as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in Cleveland in 1961.
In 1949, Dickerson was appointed as Vice Chairman and first black member of the Ohio Industrial Commission and eventually was appointed Chairman in 1959, holding that position until 1963. In 1958 he attended a conference convened by President Eisenhower. When Dickerson died, Bob Riley, assistant superintendent of the Safety and Hygiene Division said of his service:
“For many years Maynard served the people of Ohio as Industrial Commission Chairman. He combined a dedicated sense of responsibility while retaining and conveying ‘the common touch’ with employers and employees alike.”
He then went on to serve on the Ohio Liquor Commission until 1970. He fought for civil rights for blacks all his life, advocating for the first Fair Employment Practices Law in Ohio and serving as counsel in school desegregation cases in Dayton and Columbus.
Among his affiliations were membership at Oak Hill A.M.E. Church in Youngstown, the Elks, a Masonic Lodge, and the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. He received a Phi Beta Kappa award for outstanding work in the field of education and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Central State University in 1960.
He died at his home in Columbus, Ohio in the early morning hours August 5, 1976 of a cerebral hemorrhage, having complained to a guest of a headache the previous evening. He was a civil rights pioneer, publisher, mentor, and a leader in city and state government. Perhaps Nathaniel R. Jones, in his memoir, summarized it best when he said, “…I shall be forever grateful to J. Maynard Dickerson. He stood out as the most powerful African-American in the valley and one of the most significant in the state. He did not shirk from using The Buckeye Review to challenge the racial status quo.”