Earl B. Dickerson

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Earl B. Dickerson
Born (1891-06-22)June 22, 1891
Canton, Mississippi
Died September 1, 1986(1986-09-01) (aged 95)
Chicago, Illinois
Alma mater University of Illinois
University of Chicago Law School
Occupation Attorney
Political party
Spouse(s) Kathryn Kennedy Wilson
Children Diane

Earl B. Dickerson (1891–1986) was a prominent African American attorney, community activist and business executive who successfully argued before the U. S. Supreme Court in Hansberry v. Lee.[1]

Early life[edit]

Earl Burrus Dickerson was born on June 22, 1891 in Canton, Mississippi, the son of Edward and Emma Garrett Fielding Dickerson. His maternal grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Garrett, was born a slave and, before the Civil War ended, purchased himself and his wife, Eliza Montgomery, out of slavery. Earl's father died in 1896 and Earl was raised by his mother, his mother's mother, Eliza, and a half-sister from his father's first marriage, Gertrude.[2]

Dickerson first moved to Chicago in 1907 and spent most of the next 10 years there, graduating from a University of Chicago-sponsored prep school in 1909. He married Inez Moss in 1912 (a marriage which ended in divorce in 1927)[2] and earned a B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1914. During his time spent studying at the University of Illinois, Dickerson helped establish the Beta Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.[2][3]

Dickerson's legal studies were interrupted by World War I when he enlisted in the U. S. Army. He became a lieutenant and served in the American Expeditionary Forces in France. After the conclusion of the war, Dickerson became a founding member of the American Legion and personally organized the George L. Giles Post 87 in Chicago. Returning to the University of Chicago, Dickerson completed his legal studies in 1920, becoming the first African American to earn a doctorate of law degree there.[1][3] The University of Chicago Black Law Students Association is named in his honor.[4]

Law career[edit]

In 1921, Dickerson accepted a position as general counsel of the newly formed Supreme Life Insurance Company, which later became the largest African American owned insurance company in the North. This was not his first association with the company. In 1919, while still a law student, he had helped draft the company's articles of incorporation. While working for Supreme Life Insurance, Dickerson also started a law firm with fellow law school graduate Wendell E. Green, who later became a Circuit Court judge. At the same time, Dickerson began to take an active role in politics and civil rights.[1][3]

In 1927, Dickerson was instrumental in establishing Burr Oak Cemetery, one of the few African American cemeteries in southwestern Cook County. Later, during the Great Depression, Dickerson helped persuade Supreme Life to step in and save the cemetery after Burr Oak defaulted on its mortgage.[5] On June 15. 1930 he married Kathryn Kennedy Wilson.[6]

In 1939, he became the first African American Democrat to serve on the Chicago City Council. The following year he successfully argued before the U. S. Supreme Court in the landmark Hansberry v. Lee case, which addressed the issue of restrictive covenants. It involved the Chicago home purchased by real estate broker Carl Augustus Hansberry, father of playwright Lorraine Hansberry, with money borrowed from the Supreme Life Insurance Company.[1][3]


In 1952, Dickerson became president of Supreme Life Insurance Company.[1] Other positions Dickerson held during his lifetime include head of the National Bar Association, board member of the national NAACP, grand polemarch of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, president of the Chicago Urban League, and president of the National Lawyers Guild.[1][7] When Dickerson was elected president of the National Lawyers Guild from 1951–54, he became the first African American president of an integrated Bar association.[7]

He died in his Chicago home on September 1, 1986[3] and was buried next to his wife Kathryn in Burr Oak, the cemetery he helped found.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Fuller, Hoyt W. (December 1961). Johnson, John H., ed. "Earl B. Dickerson:warrior and statesman". Ebony (Chicago, Illinois: Johnson Publishing Company, Inc.) 17 (2): 150–154. 
  2. ^ a b c Dingwall, Christopher; Rachel Watson "Guide to the Earl B. Dickerson Papers", Chicago Public Library, Mapping the Stacks, accessed September 3, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e Johnson, John H., ed. (September 22, 1986). "Earl B. Dickerson, 95, dies, lawyer/businessman". Jet (Chicago, Illinois: Johnson Publishing Company) 71 (1): 12–13. .
  4. ^ http://uchicagoblsa.weebly.com/history.html
  5. ^ Blakely, Robert J.; Marcus Shepard (2006) Earl B. Dickerson: A Voice for Freedom and Equality. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2006, pp. 54-56.
  6. ^ Blakely and Shepard, pp. 44.
  7. ^ a b http://www.nlg.org/about/75years/

Further reading[edit]

  • Blakely, Robert J. (with Marcus Shepard). Earl B. Dickerson: A Voice for Freedom and Equality. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2006.