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Mahala Ashley Dickerson
Achievement In: Law
Amidst her long and distinguished career in the law, Mahala Ashley Dickerson achieved many “firsts”. She was raised on a plantation owned by her father in Alabama. She attended a private school where she began a lifelong friendship with Rosa Parks, who would become a hero of the civil rights movement. After graduating from Fisk University in 1935, she married, raised triplets and, in 1945, graduated from Howard University Law School. She became the first African-American woman admitted to the bar in Alabama, in 1946, the second African-American woman to be admitted to the bar in Indiana, in 1951, and in 1958, was the first African-American female admitted to the Alaska bar. In her many years of practicing law, until she was 91, she was known for fighting for the rights of women and minorities. In 1975, she successfully prosecuted a precedent-setting equal pay case on behalf of women university professors who received less pay their male counterparts. In 1983, she became the first African-American to serve as the President of the National Association of Women Lawyers. She even homesteaded in Wasilla, which undoubtedly was another first for an African-American woman!
She received many awards and honors over the course of her long career. In 1982, she was honored by the NAACP. In 1984, the University of Alaska Anchorage awarded her the degree of Honorary Doctor of Laws in recognition of her work in encouraging minority equality in Alaska and throughout the United States. In the following year, she received both the Zeta Phi Beta Ward for distinguished service in the field of law and the Baha’i Award for Service to Humanity. In 1995, she became a recipient of the prestigious Margaret Bent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. This honor, which “recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of women lawyers who have excelled in their field and have paved the way to success for other women lawyers”, succinctly summarizes the influence and achievements of her career. Attorney Rex Butler, whom Dickerson persuaded to come to Anchorage, summarized her successful career in this recollection, “I remember one lawyer telling me one time, he said, ‘Rex, you see those mountains out there?’ He said, ‘Those mountains are littered with the bones of lawyers who underestimated M. Ashley Dickerson.”
In 1998, M. Ashley Dickerson published the story of her life, Delayed Justice for Sale: An Autobiography.
James G. Stoops and Noel Grunwaldt. The Women of Alaska, Vol. 1, A Compilation of Interviews as recorded by Mr. James G. Stoops Sixth Grade Gifted Enrichment Class, 1994-5, p. 95-108.