Jim Dyke Tells His Story as First Black Secretary of Education in Virginia

May 3, 2021

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In an April 30 column for the Washington Business Journal, McGuireWoods Consulting senior advisor, Jim Dyke, shared his personal and professional journey – beginning with his paternal grandfather in a one-room segregated school in Bedford County, Virginia to the White House and the first Black Secretary of Education in Virginia.

Dyke’s parents instilled in him a passion for education and a desire for social change.

“I worked hard to excel in my educational efforts under challenging circumstances,” Dyke said. “I was raised in Prince George’s County and attended segregated schools. I caught a Greyhound bus in front of our farm and rode miles to catch the school bus that took me more miles to get to school. The state and county paid my transportation costs just to keep me from learning in the same classroom as white students. It was an obvious example of how government, for better or for worse, implements and facilitates public policy.”

After attending the March on Washington and hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak, Dyke knew he wanted to study government and law and subsequently went to Howard University for undergrad, continuing on to its law school, where he was valedictorian of the 1971 class.

“ I was eager and impatient to use my education to make social justice a reality,” Dyke said. “Alone, I was merely one voice. It was crucial to build relationships that would enable me to be in the right place at the right time to influence social change. Those relationships only happened because of the kindness and respect shown me by caring friends, both Black and white. I realized I stood on the shoulders of millions who fought so hard and sacrificed so much for my success. It became imperative to keep the doors of opportunity open for those who would someday stand on my shoulders.”

Dyke began his career at the Covington & Burling law firm, at a time when few Blacks were working at any Washington-area law firm. From there, Dyke managed Cliff Alexander’s campaign to become the first elected mayor of D.C., was named general counsel of the 1976 Democratic Party Platform Committee and served as the political and domestic policy advisor for the Carter-Mondale campaign. Under Vice President Walter Mondale, Dyke helped create the federal Department of Education and served as the White House liaison to the District, where he helped expand Home Rule.

“These political positions afforded me the opportunity to affect issues of social change, racial justice, education, civil rights and economic growth,” Dyke noted.

He added, “As I think about my life, I have had many satisfying successes. Appointed by Gov. Doug Wilder as the first Black secretary of education of Virginia, I was the commencement speaker before an integrated graduating class at Prince Edward County High School, ground zero for Massive Resistance. I helped open Virginia Military Institute to women, increase education funding to Virginia’s disadvantaged students and increase access to college for Virginia’s needy students.”

Dyke is now working on an effort to expose how zoning was and is used in Virginia to promote housing segregation, and to reveal and teach the untold story of Virginia’s Free Blacks.