FOR THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
C. Rudolph Knight
She's a different lady with a different style,
She stands tall and steady like the Eiffel Tower,
She is hip to politics but loves her jazz,
She's got lots of rhythm, she's got lots of class.
-- Duke Ellington
Our Tarboro Sophisticated Lady was born on March 21, 1914, to Mary Kate Crawley. As a child in Tarboro, Vivian was surrounded by her loving grandparents Camillus Marcellus “C M” Dancy (1870-1955) and Martha Randolph Dancy (1870-1960) and his successful business, the C. M. Dancy Mercantile Store. C. M. was an astute entrepreneur, a solid rock upon which she stood and grew. From him, she learned self reliance, a keen business sense, and the skills of bookkeeping and accounting.
Vivian’s grandmother, Martha, taught her to be contemplative, fiercely independent, and appreciative of life itself. A well-developed sense of humor, coupled with the ability to laugh, enabled Vivian to meet each day with confidence.
The Dancy family valued education, and Vivian began school in 1920 at the St. Luke’s Day School (more generally known as the Perry School) where she was taught by the Rev. Milton Moran Weston, Sr., Mrs. Catherine Perry Weston, Mrs. May Pettiipher Perry, and Miss Mary Gertrude Perry. In 1931 Vivian graduated with honors from Tarboro Colored High School.
Vivian left for New York City at age 17, her intellectual curiosity inspiring her to explore the world around her. In New York, she became a beautician at DeFrans Beauty Salon, located in the borough of Brooklyn, and worked in this professional field for many years.
In 1932 Vivian met the great love of here life, James Tillman Dyson. During their courtship, they danced in Harlem’s Sugar Hill to the big band sounds of Cab Calloway, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Dinners were in Harlem’s hip restaurants. In Vivian’s words, “Oh, my, when Harlem was really sayin’ something!”
Vivian and James married and lived in Brooklyn for 35 years where they raised James Seitu Dyson, Jr., Gerald Randolph Dyson, DK Dyson, Arthur and Ralph Sanchez, and Jaque Dupree. Vivian’s abundant love also inspired her to foster over 16 children.
This same love extended to animals and to nature. As a child she rode horseback, fed the chickens, and cared for the animals on the farm. This led her to join and support many anti-cruelty organizations.
Vivian was baptized and confirmed in 1926 at St. Luke’s Colored Episcopal Church by Bishop Joseph Blount Cheshire. She was a life-long member of St. Luke’s, along with her grandparents, her mother, her uncle Bud Dancy, and her aunt Lillian. Whether it was praying at St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church in New York, St. Luke’s in Tarboro, visiting an Ashram in the Catskills, or worshipping at Eastern Star Baptist Church in Tarboro, Vivian always cherished her special and unique relationship with God.
Vivian Dancy Dyson died February 18, 2012, in the company of her family. Left to cherish the memory of this Sophisticated Lady are her daughter DK Neeci Dyson, daughter Jacque Dupree, son Ralph Sanchez; grandchildren Sandflower Julia Dyson, Meta Denali Dyson, Gordon Scott Dyson, and Amour, Chanel, Monique, Janee, and Darius Sanchez; and great grandchildren Raven Dyson, Billy Laura Ray Michael, Lenny Leola Kiki Michaels, and the Dupree children.
Her funeral was held February 21, 2012, in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and, according to her wishes, her ashes were scattered into the Tar River, God’s flowing waters.
Interviews with Vivian Dyson and family members.
Vivian Dyson obituary.
From Water Street to East Tarboro, Keechtown, and The
Depot: Tarboro African American Neighborhoods, by C. Rudolph Knight and Lawrence W. S. Auld, Ph.D.