History Here and Now Column February 15, 2009
Friendship overcomes cultural differences for two local history enthusiasts
The differences between Josephine Taylor Dickey and Kathy Smith Jordan are fairly obvious.
Dickey is a generation older than Jordan. She descended from black pioneers who settled in the Grand Valley even before the Utes were marched out of this region at gunpoint.
Growing up, her family lived in a home in the 1100 block of Rood until Ku Klux Klan members smashed a rock through their window. Attached to the rock was a threatening note, telling the
Taylor family they had better get out of the neighborhood. They packed and fled southward, to Kimball Avenue.
Jordan and her sisters had ruffled dresses and the run of their maternal grandparents’ home in Holly — except for one room — the “forbidden room.”
Undeterred, Jordan and her cousins sneaked into the room, rifled through their grandfather’s trunk and pulled out some white robes.
After her grandmother and mother angrily refused to discuss the puzzling find, Jordan’s father explained that they were Ku Klux Klan robes.
“When my father told me what that was all about I, of course, went to the library and read everything I possibly could,” Jordan said.
Despite their differences, the similarities between Josephine Taylor Dickey and Kathy Smith Jordan are abundant.
Both have close families and wide circles of friends. Dickey’s oldest son, Vernon, has been best friends with Jordan’s husband, Teddy, since fourth grade.
Both women are committed to historic preservation.
Dickey in 1979 successfully fought the sale of the Handy Chapel at 202 White Ave. The four lots on which the chapel was built in 1892 had been deeded to Grand Junction’s black community for $1 by town founder George Crawford and the town’s first mayor, Charles F. Shanks. With the lots, black citizens were guaranteed a place to worship, as they weren’t welcomed into most churches at the time. Handy Chapel now is on the state and federal historical registries.
In 1984, Jordan was instrumental in getting the North Seventh Street neighborhood, in which she lives, between White and Hill avenues placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the oldest and largest intact residential district in the city.
Jordan also coordinates and frequently writes the History Here and Now columns that run in The Daily Sentinel every Friday. For February’s columns, she had a particular project in mind.
“I thought Josephine’s story needed to be told for Black History Month,” Jordan said. “So I called Josephine and told Josephine what I had in mind and she very graciously said yes. I felt that the history of the black settlers in Grand Junction ... had not been given the credit that is due,” Jordan said.
Jordan turned on the tape recorder, and Dickey started talking. On Jordan’s front porch, in the kitchen preparing dinner, and during drives, Dickey’s story revealed itself in the conversation between two friends.
The two spent a day navigating cemetery plots, looking for the buried markers of Dickey’s grandfather, sister, Aunt Mary, father, mother and twin little brothers. They found most of them, 6 inches deep, under rock and dirt, and tangles of grass.
They drove around town, with Dickey pointing out where her grandfather Austin’s hog farm was in the Riverside area, and where the stockyards would have been.
Dickey showed Jordan the house on Kimball. Famed black Fruita cowboy Charlie Glass would charge down the dirt road on his horse and rear to a stop for welcome visits. When longhorns were driven through the streets, Dickey and the other children jumped into front yards to get out of the way.
Only one friend had a phone: the Arcieris, who made it available to whoever needed it.
A single neighborhood radio provided entertainment for dozens, who gathered around during baseball games and Joe Louis boxing matches.
They idolized the black, world-champion heavyweight, “Because you had to have a hero,”
Dickey explained. They cried when the “Brown Bomber,” son of a sharecropper, lost a bout.
Back in Jordan’s North Seventh Street home, Dickey taught Jordan how to prepare coleslaw and baked beans.
“Her baked beans are the very best baked beans in the whole world,” Jordan said.
The secret ingredient is ginger, Dickey divulged.
Dickey’s stories were transcribed and edited by Jordan into a four-part series that started Friday and is available at GJSentinel.com.
Look for the balance of columns in History Here and How every Friday for the next three weeks.
For those interested in finding out more about Grand Junction’s black pioneers, there also are tapes by Dickey in the Museum of Western Colorado, recorded as part of the Oral History Project.