A woman of many “firsts”, Mahala Ashley Dickerson was born in Montgomery County, Alabama, on October 12, 1912. Her parents were John and Hattie Moss Ashley. She attended Miss White’s school, where she befriended classmate Rosa Parks. She then graduated from the Alabama State Laboratory High School, and received a degree in sociology in 1935 from Fisk University.
In 1938, Mahala Ashley married Henry Dickerson and gave birth to triplets. One of those triplets, Chris, became the first African American Mr. Olympia and Mr. America.
Ten years later, Mahala Dickerson graduated from Howard University Law School. That same year she became the first African American woman to pass the Alabama State Bar.
In 1951, Dickerson moved to Indiana with her second husband, where she became the second African American admitted to the bar in that state. She then moved to Anchorage, Alaska in 1958. In 1959, she became the first African American woman to pass the bar there, as well as the first African American woman to homestead in Alaska. Dickerson took many pro bono cases, once stating, “Whenever there’s somebody mistreated, if they want me, I’ll help them”.
Dickerson was recognized for her work during her lifetime, including a national award in 1982 from the NAACP. In 1983, she became the first African American to serve as the president of the National Association of Women Lawyers. In 1995, Dickerson joined previous recipients Hillary Clinton, Justice Sandra Day O -Connor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she received the Margaret Brent Award from the American Bar Association for outstanding work for the profession. This same organization had denied Dickerson membership years earlier.
The Alabama State Bar recognized her work in 2006, when she received the Maud McClure Kelly Award, which honors outstanding female attorneys in Alabama. In 2015, she was inducted into the Alabama Lawyer’s Hall of Fame, and she was inducted into the Alabama State Bar Lawyers Hall of Fame in 2017.
Mahala Ashley Dickerson practiced law until her death in 2007 at 94 years old.
Alabama Women's Hall of Fame