A Lament for Gary Dickey

Cole Lawson

Tropolitan Contributor


Gary Dickey – who was expelled from Troy State College, sued the college and won — spoke out for the first time to the Tropolitan in almost 50 years during an interview.

Gary Clinton Dickey, 70, was the initiator of the landmark case Dickey v. Alabama State Board of Education. Dickey now lives in Lexington, S.C., has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism, once served as speechwriter for the Internal Revenue Service commissioner under President Bill Clinton, and is married to Beth Dickey. They have raised two children.

“Before attending Troy, I served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War,” Dickey said. “At that time, they had not passed a GI Bill for the Vietnamese War. I chose Troy because my brother had gone there.”

He enrolled as an English major because Troy did not offer any journalism majors at the time, he said.

“There were a few journalism courses offered and the students who took them usually were roped in to writing for the Tropolitan,” Dickey said, referring to the student newspaper. He became a reporter for the Tropolitan after his first semester of taking journalism courses and became interested in a journalism career.

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PHOTO/Gary Dickey
PHOTO/ Gary Dickey
PHOTO/ Gary Dickey

He started to write a column for the Tropolitan during his second year called “In Medias Res,” Latin for, in the middle of things. “At that time, I didn’t know how much in the middle of things I was going to be,” he said.

Dickey was asked to serve as news editor for the Tropolitan and to write an editorial to be published each week. He remembers he first learned about “Adams’ Rule” when a student wrote an editorial criticizing the college for banning cowbells from the football games.

According to Dickey, Troy’s President Ralph Adams was furious about the article, and he explained to Tropolitan adviser Wallace Waites and the Tropolitan staff that it was his rule that nothing negative about the college or governor be published in the paper.

Dickey said the students would pay a fee every year to bring in some form of entertainment each quarter. The Student Government Association had decided to bring in the Platters, an African-American singing group.

“The deal was made and the tickets were printed,” Dickey said. At the last minute, Adams said that it was his rule that they were not allowed to bring black entertainment on campus because “we were not an integrated school.”

“I had been in the Navy for four years, and I had several best friends that were black, so to me the rule was idiotic. I wrote an editorial on how stupid the rule was, and that’s when I first ran into Adams’ Rule.”

Troy was racially segregated at the time and it was a foreign concept to Dickey after serving in an integrated military.

At the time, University of Alabama president Frank Rose had allowed students to publish material calling for racial equality. Gov. George Wallace and several members of the state legislature did not like Rose and called for his resignation.

Dickey then wrote an editorial that he called “A Lament for Dr. Rose.” It was in support of Rose after several legislators and the governor condemned him, and it directly broke Adams’ Rule.

“The Tropolitan, therefore, laments the misinterpretation of the `Emphasis’ program by members of the legislature, and the considerable harassment they have caused Dr. Rose,” reads the last paragraph of the editorial that was never published in the Tropolitan. “It is our hope that this episode does not impair his effective leadership at the University or discourage him in his difficult task.”

Dickey said he was told not to publish the article by the Tropolitan adviser and by Ralph Adams himself. He disobeyed. Dickey took the Tropolitan to the printer.

“I told him (the printer) to run that headline and then just run the word ‘CENSORED’ across the page. He just smiled at me and said ‘OK. You’re the editor!’”

Dickey said that Adams was livid after seeing the papers and had people go around and remove them from the stands. He said that Waites was also angry and told him that the Tropolitan was done for.

The Montgomery Advertiser published a copy of the censored page of the Tropolitan on the front page of its paper and brought statewide media attention to the issue.

Troy refused to allow Dickey back into the college the following quarter, essentially expelling him. Dickey then brought a lawsuit against the college, one that the college would eventually lose, setting a precedent for college journalists.

Morris Seligman Dees Jr., who became co-founder and chief trial counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center, served as Dickey’s legal counsel during the case. “There is no doubt that this case was very significant for college journalists,” Dees said.

“Gary Dickey was a courageous guy to do what he did,” Dees said. “The average student would have been worried about grades or discipline if their faculty adviser had told them not to publish the article. It took guts to go through with all that and I’m glad he did it!”

Valario Johnson, 21, a junior biomedical sciences major, current news editor for the Tropolitan, said that the stand Dickey took all those years ago has led to a better working environment for college journalists, especially at Troy.

“I feel that his actions have benefitted me by allowing me to produce and express what I want to in the paper and not have to deal with complete control over what I write,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot different today from what I’ve heard about how it was when Dickey served in my position.”

“I feel like Dickey taking such a stand then, has allowed student journalists to play an even more important role in the communities,” Johnson said, – “such as with the situation that occurred with the Greek system at University of Alabama a couple of months ago.

“If Dickey had never done that, then it’s possible that the same censorship that was in place back then could still be in effect, which would make that kind of story un-publishable.”

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