John W. Nixon, Sr.
Dr. John W. Nixon was born in Bartow, Florida in 1922 and was the son of Willie Nixon, a phosphate mine worker. He attended college prior to entering the Army during World War II. After the war, he completed his education, which included attending Bethune-Cookman College and Fisk University. He received his D.D.S. degree in 1951 from the dental school at Meharry Medical College in Nashville. He was offered a practice in Boston with the opportunity to pursue graduate work at Tufts University. At the same time, the Birmingham dentist, Dr. Andrew J. Belcher, offered him a position. During his visit to Birmingham to check on the position, Dr. Belcher passed away and Nixon stayed in Birmingham to help with Dr. Belcher’s patients.
Dr. Nixon was an important participant in the struggle for civil rights in Birmingham in the 1950s and 1960s. He served as the president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), two terms as president of the Alabama Conference of NAACP Branches, and one term as the chairman of the Southern Regional Conference of the NAACP Branches. During the pivotal confrontations in 1963, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, leader of the Birmingham-based Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), Dr. Nixon was among a group of black business leaders who called for moderation rather than confrontation. While the work of King and Shuttlesworth was the precursor to the march on Washington in August 1963, and ultimately, the passage of more effective civil rights legislation, the established relationships moderate black professionals like Dr. Nixon had with their white counterparts paved the way for the successful implementation of many of the local reforms that the protests had initiated.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) worked closely with Birmingham’s branch of the NAACP, of which Dr. Nixon was then president, on a series of cases involving job discrimination in the area, notably those relating to U.S. Steel, the city’s largest employer. Dr. Nixon used the Belcher-Nixon Building as his primary based of operations for much of his civil rights-related activities throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He maintained a small office in the building where he would plan his activities, communicate with other leaders by phone, and hold small meetings. The building served as the local NAACP headquarters during Dr. Nixon’s term as the organization’s president.
In addition to his dental practice and civil rights work, Dr. Nixon was active in a wide variety of other pursuits. He served for a time on the faculty of the University of Alabama-Birmingham Dental School and was appointed to the National Advisory Dental research Council of the National Institute of Health in 1976. Dr. Nixon served on the state Board of Pensions and Security and was member of the President’s Cabinet at the University of Alabama. His business pursuits included helping to organize the Citizens Federal Savings and Loan Association and he was a founding member of Operation New Birmingham. An accomplished actor and storyteller, Dr. Nixon appeared in both local productions and as a bit player in 15 major films and was a member of the Screen Actors Guild. He participated in an annual Black History Month oral history program and became “a much sought after dramatist of poetry because of his acting skills and melodious voice.” He later joined the Birmingham actor and writer Thom Gassom, Jr. to create an oral history program called “Speak of Me As I Am” that was very popular in Birmingham schools and churches until Dr. Nixon’s death on December 20, 1988.
Dr. Nixon was also an associate Minister at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. In 1971, Dr. Nixon joined with prominent Birmingham business leaders A. G. Gaston and Arthur Shores to establish United Service Associates, Inc. (USAI), a facilities maintenance company.