Bernice Dickerson, known to all as Miss Bernice, died Tuesday, January 6 at the age of 95.
“England has their queen, and we had Miss Bernice,” said Becky Tinch, city clerk and longtime friend of Miss Bernice.
Born in 1913, before women even had the right to vote, Miss Bernice went on not only to vote but to hold public office and be recognized statewide for her accomplishments in politics.
“Whatever she was doing she put her heart into it,” said Rev. Lee Fishback, pastor of Mt. Herman Baptist Church where Miss Bernice served as church clerk for over 30 years, was a member of the senior choir and did whatever else needed to be done.
“She was one of the most faithful members of Mt. Herman,” Rev. Fishback said. “Everybody looked up to her.”
“She was an advisor,” he added, “and she was a self-declared mother to everyone.”
Miss Bernice was born April 10, 1913 in Montgomery County, Tenn., a daughter of the late Elijah and Sarah Winston Clark. In 1931, she married Virgil Dickerson, who died in 1983, and they had five sons. She stayed home with her boys until they were old enough for her to work outside the home.
Miss Bernice did house cleaning and baby sitting before becoming a cook for Adairville Training College. She later worked for many years as a nutritionist for the Logan County Extension Office.
At age 70, when many people are thinking about retirement and taking it easy, Miss Bernice decided to run for office. She won her first council race in 1983, earning a seat on the Adairville City County.
Maria Dickerson, a daughter-in-law of Miss Bernice, said that though she was small in stature she was a very determined woman.
“She always said ‘never stop learning and never stop achieving,’” Maria said.
Tinch said Miss Bernice was wonderful to talk to and she could talk on many subjects.
“She was strong-willed,” added Rev. Fishback. “I think that’s one reason she lived so long.”
Serving the city she called home for so many years suited Miss Bernice, who won 11 elections and was a council member for 22 years.
When she was reelected for the final time in 2004, Miss Bernice was 91 years old. In a story that ran in News-Democrat & Leader that year shortly after her reelection, Miss Bernice explained why she still wanted to serve on the council at her age.
“I asked myself, ‘What would there be for me to do if I weren’t on the council. I realized I wouldn’t be using my mind as much as I do now. I was afraid my mind would deteriorate, and I didn’t want that,’” Miss Bernice said.
She served out that term, but did not run again. Her years as a council member brought her much recognition.
In January 2006, the state honored her with a recognition that listed her many accomplishments. She was recognized as the first black woman elected to a city council in Logan County, as the longest-serving black elected official in the state, and as perhaps the oldest elected official in Kentucky.
Miss Bernice was honored as a Kentucky Admiral by State Senator Joey Pendleton in January 2006 and Jan. 15, 2006 was proclaimed Bernice Dickerson Day in Logan County.
Even after giving up her seat on the council, Miss Bernice continued to be active in the community and church as well as with her family, which includes her five sons and their families. She had a stroke about two years ago, but even then she remained strong and when she had trouble talking, she would write.
“Her spirit never failed,” Maria Dickerson said.
Adairville correspondent Dick Dickerson said that when he visited her over the last few months her mind was still good.
“She was a great, great person,” he said. “The whole community just loved her.”
For Miss Bernice, one of the most important days of the year was always Election Day. She never took the right to vote for granted, Maria said. Last year, even in her failing health, Miss Bernice was determined to cast her vote.
“For her to get to vote for Obama was amazing,” Maria said. “She had seen so much change over the years.”
Having broken racial barriers herself, Miss Bernice looked forward to seeing the first black president sworn in on inauguration day. In recent weeks, however, her health began to deteriorate. Many family and friends visited Miss Bernice while she was in the hospital.
Word of her passing spread quickly though the town of Adairville. Tinch said people been calling all day Wednesday and everyone has a good memory of Miss Bernice.
“She had such a humble spirit and integrity,” Tinch said. “She’s one of the finest people I ever knew.”
For the complete obituary information for Bernice Dickerson, see Page A-5.