Before Knik Elementary was opened it was determined that the library would be named the Dickerson Memorial Library. Below is a biography of our name sake.
After you read it, you'll understand why local citizens wanted to recognize her contributions.
Mahala Ashley DickersonOctober 12, 1912– February 19, 2007
Mahala Ashley Dickerson, who was raised in the South before the era of civil rights, blazed a trail for black women in the world of law. Aside from her accomplishments in Alaska, she became the first female attorney in her home state of Alabama in 1948 and the second black woman admitted to the bar in Indiana in 1951. In addition to practicing law for over 50 years, she was dedicated to human rights on a personal level and she was an extraordinary example of the Alaskan spirit.
Ms. Dickerson grew up in Alabama on a plantation owned by her father. She grew up in a totally segregated era where education for black children was non-existent without money. She attended a private school, Miss White's School, where she began a lifelong friendship with Rosa Parks, who would become a hero of the civil rights movement.
Mahala’s early life was brightened by a large and loving family where emphasis was placed upon a love of learning and high moral standards.
After graduating from Fisk University in 1935, she married Henry Dickerson and had triplets, Alfred, John and Chris. She later divorced, and when the boys were 6, she went to Howard University School of Law, becoming one of four women to graduate in her class of `36. After working as an attorney in Alabama and Indiana, she moved to Alaska with her sons, where she homesteaded 160 acres of land in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
Ms. Dickerson opened her law practice in Anchorage in 1959. She often took clients who didn't have the means to pay and had a reputation as an advocate for the poor and underprivileged. She argued many cases involving racial and gender discrimination. In 1995, she was awarded the Margaret Brent Award from the American Bar Association, an honor also given to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O'Connor, justices of the nation's top court who have since retired. She continued to practice law until she was 91.
At the age of 94, Ms Dickerson passed away at her homestead in Wasilla after a brief illness. She is buried in the private cemetery on her land near her son Alfred who died in 1960.
Dickerson's legacy is the way she overcame obstacles and generously gave back to the community. For more details about her life, read her autobiography, Delayed Justice for Sale available in the Alaska section of the library.