Dancy, John C.

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John C. Dancy

Business executive, community activist

John Campbell Dancy Jr. served as director of the Detroit Urban League in Detroit, Michigan from 1918 to 1960. Using his own brand of personal diplomacy Dancy was able to strengthen and expand the mission of the league to provide needed services and employment opportunities for local African Americans as well as the enormous number of African Americans who were migrating to the city. Dancy's leadership resulted in employment opportunities that extended outside the servant industry into skilled jobs, which had previously barred blacks. His determination to see his community grow and prosper guided his involvement in organizations that supported and made policy for institutions such as hospitals, correctional institutions, various faith-based organizations, and groups that supported the arts. He also helped establish a summer camp to bring new experiences and learning to underprivileged children. Dancy's contributions and work in the community were rewarded with numerous awards and accolades. During his retirement in 1960, he was noted as having a more profound impact on race relations in the city of Detroit than any other community leader during that time.

Born April 13, 1888 in Salisbury, North Carolina, to John Campbell Sr. and Laura Coleman, John Campbell Dancy Jr. was welcomed into a well-to-do and educated southern home. The elder Dancy, who was born in slavery, later studied at Howard University Preparatory and held many positions of public trust. These included the positions of typesetter, schoolteacher, newspaper editor, local politician, collector of customs in Wilmington, North Carolina, and recorder of deeds in Washington D.C. The elder Dancy included among his family friends educator Booker T. Washington and politician P. B. S. Pinchback, and it is said he received a personal invitation from President Theodore Roosevelt to attend an important banquet. In this environment young Dancy was made aware of books, the power of influence, and race problems.

Until the age of fifteen, Dancy attended a private elementary and middle school run by Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. At the same time the elder Dancy was teaching printing and publishing at the college. After young Dancy completed his middle school education, his father determined it was time for him to go to school with whites. Young Dancy was subsequently enrolled at the Phillips Exeter Academy, an elite preparatory school in New Hampshire. Although many West Indian planters sent their sons to Exeter, Dancy was the first American black to attend. After graduating from high school, Dancy attended the University of Pennsylvania where he studied sociology. He graduated in 1910.


Born in Salisbury, North Carolina on April 13
Completes private elementary and middle school education at Livingston College
Attends Phillips-Exeter Academy
Graduates from the University of Pennsylvania in sociology
Becomes secretary of the Negro YMCA in Norfolk, Virginia
Marries Maude Bulkley
Moves to Detroit to become director of the local Urban League
Convinces the United Community Services to hire a Negro stenographer, making national news
Retires on September 30 as director of the Urban League
Death of first wife Maude Bulkley Dancy; marries Malinda Wells
Awarded Amity Day Award by the Women's Division of the American Jewish Congress
Dies in Detroit, Michigan on September 10

After college, Dancy worked for a while as a waiter on boats on the Great Lakes and later took a position as the principal of Smallwood Institute in Clairmount, West Virginia. In 1911 he became secretary of the Negro YMCA in Norfolk, the only recreational center for black children at the time, and had as many as five hundred children in his care at one time. Dancy learned many valuable skills managing this institution and was eager to try his hand in larger urban centers. In 1914 Dancy left Virginia and headed to New York City. He worked as a probation officer in the Children's Court and became active in the Big Brother Movement and the Urban League. In the Big Brother Movement, he later reminisced about offering assistance to the young Countee Cullen, who was to become the great Harlem Renaissance poet. Dancy was offered a position as industrial secretary for the local Urban League. Eugene Kinckle Jones, a key person in the Urban League, influenced his acceptance of the position. Dancy also began to court his childhood sweetheart, Maude Bulkley. Her father, William Lewis Bulkley, was New York's first black school principal and a founder of the National Urban League. Bulkley had educated his daughter in Europe and was not enthusiastic with the prospect of an American let alone a black as a son-in-law. Maude Buckley's father had hoped for a life, for all his daughters, away from the racism of the United States. His other two daughters had married American white men but their race was kept a secret from the men they married. Despite her father's reservation, the couple married on October 27, 1917 and moved to Detroit in 1918. Dancy became direc-tor of the Detroit Urban League succeeding Forrester B. Washington.

Heads Detroit Urban League

As director of the Detroit Urban League (DUL), Dancy focused on employment opportunities for blacks. Under the previous leadership of Washington, the DUL was among the first in its ability to effectively serve the black community. Dancy sought to maintain this reputation and improve on it with the introduction of new programs. As a result of his efforts, in less than a year, the quarters were three-times larger and the league handled over eleven thousand people by the year's end. The DUL became the fastest growing chapter in the country. Dancy found support and developed opportunities from philanthropic individuals, existing structures, and even from whites who supported segregation. Dancy was also able to get blacks hired in skilled and even some white-collar positions which broke the color line in Detroit's public and private sectors. In 1920 he convinced the United Community Services to hire a Negro stenographer, which made national news. She was the first Negro stenographer hired by a white organization.

Dancy promoted many new ideas in the DUL and also played major roles in the community as a whole. Along with new avenues for employment in the DUL, Dancy introduced travelers' aid, recreation, education, health, and housing. He supported the construction of Brewster Homes, the first government-funded units for black Detroiters. Along with community events, such as dances and athletic events, he conceived of Green Pastures Camp for poor and working-class children, promoted National Negro Health Week, and opened baby clinics. Dancy primarily remained conservative in his dealings and recognized a low profile was important in maintaining his funding for the Urban League. In 1925, though, when the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) helped raise funds for the Ossie Sweet case, Dancy supported their efforts. But he helped to raise funds as an individual and not as director of the Urban League. Ossie Sweet, a noted black physician, was accused of shooting white rioters who had opposed his move into their neighborhood. Sweet's lawyer, the famous Clarence Darrow, called Dancy as an expert witness regarding housing conditions in Detroit but not as representative of any organization.

Dancy was a willing advocate for the community and was an active participant in numerous organizations. His memberships included the Detroit Round Table of Christians and Jews, the Board of Education, the American Red Cross, the Governor's Commission on Youth Problems, Metropolitan Planning Commission, director of the United Community Services, secretary-treasurer of the Parkside Hospital, supporter of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and president of the Detroit Library Commission. After the death of his first wife Maude in 1931, Dancy married Malinda Wells; she died in 1964, and the couple had no children.

Dancy's education and experiences clearly placed him among W. E. B. Du Bois' talented tenth, but he used the concepts of gradualism and deference offered by Booker T. Washington as the philosophical basis for his many works. Over the years others had evoked militant protest and more aggressive calls for change, but none was said to be more effective or to have had a more profound impact on race relation in Detroit than Dancy. He stated in his autobiography Sands Against the Wind (1966) that the key to racial progress was a climate of good human relations. After forty-two years in service to the Detroit Urban League, Dancy retired on September 30, 1960. In celebration of his work in the Urban League and the community, the mayor of Detroit proclaimed "John C. Dancy Day" and over seven hundred civic leaders and other distinguished state and national guests attended a tribute to "Mr. Urban League." President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon sent congratulatory telegrams. In subsequent years Dancy received other awards, such as the annual Amity Day Award by the Women's Division of the American Jewish Congress in 1963 and the John Phillips Award in 1967 from Phillip Exeter Academy to an alumnus whose life contributed to the welfare of the community. Dancy died September 10, 1968 in Detroit after being hospitalized in the Kirkwood Hospital for nine months.

John Dancy Jr. played a crucial role in helping to strengthen the black community in Detroit and in providing a model for others to follow. His influences helped to improve the quality of life for many blacks and opened doors that might have remained closed. His efforts prepared the way for the even greater opportunities that came with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.



Angelo, Frank. "Dancy, John Campbell Jr." In Dictionary of American Negro Biography. Eds. Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston. New York: Norton, 1982.

Capeci, Dominic J., Jr. "Dancy, John Campbell, Jr." In American National Biography. Eds. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Fleming, James G., and Christian E. Burckel, eds. Who's Who in Colored America. 7th ed. Yonkers-on-Hudson, N.Y: Christian E. Buckey & Associates, 1950.

Levine, David Allan. Internal Combustion: The Races in Detroit 1915–1926. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976.

Thomas, Richard W. Life for Us Is What We Make I:t Building Black Community in Detroit, 1915–1945.Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1992.


The Dancy papers are in the Carnegie Library, Livingston College, Salisbury, North Carolina. Career information and some personal papers are located in the Detroit Urban League Papers, housed in the Michigan Historical Collections, Bentley Historical Library, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

                                   Lean'tin L. Bracks