John C. Dancy was born in slavery at Tarboro, North Carolina, May 8, 1857.  He was placed in school immediately after the close of the war, and instructed by able teachers from the North.

His father was a leading builder and contractor, and made it a point to keep him in school all the while.  His mother also early advised and lectured him at the family fireside, and taught him the first lessons of honesty, temperance and true manhood.  In school his teachers all considered him an exemplary boy, easily taught and always obedient.  He always carried off the honors of his class.

In 1873 he entered the printing office of the Tarboro Southern as office boy, but was soon given a case by direction of the foreman, and in a few months was an acceptable “typo.”  The sentiment of the white newspaper fraternity of the State was soon tested, and it was unanimous against this state of things; consequently he left the office to enter Howard University, Washington, District of Columbia.  His father died after he had been there a short while, and so he had to return home to care for his mother and family.  He taught school for a while though only seventeen years of age, and was appointed to a position in the treasury department at Washington, District of Columbia, through the influence of Honorable John A. Hyman, then a member of Congress, and in the interim attended Howard University.  He resigned his position after holding it less than a year, to take charge of the public school at Tarboro.  The resignation was a great surprise to his friends in Washington, as it is said there “that few die and none resign.”  He continued to teach for several years.

He was secretary of the State convention of colored men in 1877, and chief secretary of the State Republican convention of 1880 and 1884.  He was also president of the State convention of colored men to consider the question of placing colored men on the jury.

He was elected recorder of deeds of Edgecombe county in 1880 and 1882 by large majorities, but was defeated in 1884 by reason of a split in his own party, and a combination of other circumstances.  He was chairman of the county Republican committee for eight years.

He was elected a delegate to the Chicago convention in 1884, and attracted wide attention by reason of a speech he made in that body seconding the nomination of the Honorable John A. Logan.  No one knew he was to speak but himself, and he says he prepared the speech in his mind without writing a line, on going from the Palmer House to the hall.  His eloquent and capital effort was greeted with a volley of hand claps and round after round of applause.  He was warmly congratulated by the delegates from various States.  He has been a prominent speaker in all the important campaigns since 1878, when he attained his majority.  Mr. Dancy is tall, slim, and in manners very graceful, dignified and affable.  He is a remarkable man and reflects credit on the race.  Although a young man, being thirty years of age, he is one of the most prominent laymen in the A. M. E. Zion church.  He was a lay delegate to the general conference of said church in 1880 and 1884, and took a prominent part in the debates of that august body.

He is a ripe debater and his oratory is clear, persuasive and brilliant.  He is peculiarly gifted, eminently original, natural, practical and powerful as a speaker and is dashing and spicy as a writer.  In short, he is a man of brains and character.

He went abroad in 1879 as a delegate to the Right Worthy Grand Lodge of Good Templars, and was elected Right Worthy Grand Marshal of that body.

He lectured extensively in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and made many warm friends.

Upon his return he lectured considerably on “Scenes and Incidents Abroad,” Professor J. C. Price lecturing jointly with him, the latter speaking on the topic, “One Hour With the People.”  They were very successful financially and otherwise.  He was grand secretary of the Grand Lodge of Good Templars of North Carolina for seven years.  He edited the North Carolina Sentinel, published at Tarboro, North Carolina, for three years, and gave it up at the request of the board of bishops of the A. M. E. Zion church, to take charge as editor and business manager of the Star of Zion, the organ of said church.  Under his management the paper has increased wonderfully in subscription and circulation, and is now considered the equal in ability and news of any religious paper published by the race in America.

Transcription from the book, Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising, written by William J. Simmons, published in 1970, pages 796-797, found on the website, Hathitrust Digital Library (, accessed 11 February 2021.  Photograph by Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, taken in 1902, found on the website, Wikipedia (, accessed 12 February 2021.

Scroll Up