"Steel Arm" Dickey

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According to the 1900 US Census of Fannin County, Georgia, Claude Dickey was born in June of 1896 and enumerated in the house of his grandparents, Benjamin and Frona. It was a rural county, and Benjamin and the other men in the household were either farmers or farm laborers. Ten years later, the family moved to McMinn County, Tennessee, two counties removed from Fannin County. Frona's name would be listed as Franie in the 1910 US Census.

In 1918 Claude Dickey registered for the Armed Forces Draft, as the United States was at war with Germany, listing his birth location as Blue Ridge, Georgia, in Fannin County. A resident of Etowah, his tall and stout stature is a valuable asset working as a day laborer in the aluminum business. His birthdate on the registration is listed as May 14, 1894.

The first connection to baseball is from a team photograph of the Etowah Sluggers of 1917, but in 1919 Knoxville newspapers report him as a pitcher on the 1919 Knoxville Giants. The next season, 1920, he is one of the stars of the Giants of the newly formed Negro Southern League, at one point having won 25 straight games during the season.

The Giants claimed the Negro Southern League championship and played Rube Foster's Chicago American Giants for the “colored championship of the United States.” The Chicago American Giants won the series handily, 5 games to none..

Before the 1921 season was underway, there were reports that the Boston club of the New Continental League had offered $5,000 to the Providence club for Dickey’s services. He started the season as a pitcher for the Birmingham Black Barons, although he's hitched his wagon to the Mobile Braves in early June. Before too long, he signs with the Montgomery Grey Sox.

The 1922 season found him playing for several teams in the Negro Southern League, first with Knoxville, then Nashville and New Orleans, and finally being signed by the St. Louis Stars of the Negro National League.

The next spring was a tragic one for Dickey. On March 11, 1923, an altercation happened in Etowah, Tennessee. It was reported that Dickey and four of his companions had attacked Waldo Keyes, who had refused to buy liquor from them. Twenty-seven years of age and white, Keyes slashed Dickey’s throat with a knife, and the ball player bled to death in a short time.

Charged with murder, Keyes’ case was to be heard in the Circuit court in Athens, Tennessee just three weeks later. The charges appear to have been changed, as three of Dickey’s associates, Joe Johnson, Claude Hitchcock, and John Melton, were found guilty of assault with intent to kill and were imposed sentences of one-to-five years each in the penitentiary.

Walter “Steel Arm” Dickey is buried at the New Zion Cemetery in Etowah, McMinn county, Tennessee. His marker reads:

“Steel Arm”
Walter Dickey
June 2, 1899
Mar. 11, 1923
Negro Baseball League


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This page was assembled and presented by Mark D. Aubrey. Thanks to Skip Nipper for some editing and guidance.

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