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Series of vignettes of historical figures

Alaska's Black History: Mahala Dickerson

Mahala Dickerson
Fran Durner Collection, Anchorage
Mahala Dickerson

Alaska Black History Notes

Mahala Ashley Dickerson was the first Black lawyer in Alaska. She attended law school at Howard University in Washington D.C. In 1948, she became the first Black female attorney admitted to the Alabama State Bar … in 1951, she was the second Black woman admitted to the Indiana bar.

According to the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, it was a vacation here in 1958 that convinced her to move north with her triplet sons.

She established a 160-acre homestead in the valley near Wasilla in 1958, to become Alaska’s first female Black homesteader.

A few months later, Dickerson passed the Alaska Bar exam and became the first Black lawyer in Alaska. She opened a law practice in Anchorage, where she had a fifty-year career. Her son, John Dickerson told Alaska Public Media that she cared about civil rights.

“Justice. She fought for justice. She was always fighting for the little guy.”
In perhaps her most notable trial, Dickerson argued and won a precedent-setting equal pay case for female faculty members at the University of Alaska.

Dickerson remained active in her later years. In addition to serving as president of Dickerson and Gibbons, the law firm she established in Alaska, she founded Al-Acres, a charitable non-profit organization. In 1983 she was elected the first black president of the National Association of Women Lawyers. In 1984 the University of Alaska awarded her an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. The American Bar Association also recognized Dickerson for her civil rights advocacy and legal career by naming her a Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement honoree in 1995. Dickerson published her memoir, Delayed Justice for Sale, in 1998.

According to the Black Quaker Project, Dickerson donated part of her land to local Quakers. Homestead neighbor and fellow Quaker Jan Bronson said they built a meeting center there.

“She helped establish Alaska Friends Conference, and saw possibilities that others didn’t see, and created those pathways for other people as well as herself.

Despite overhearing racial slurs spoken behind her back by some Quakers and denying them access to her property for several years, she later reconciled with them.

So today there is the Dickerson Friends Centernear Wasilla, Alaska.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.