Earl B. Dickerson: A Voice for Freedom and Equality

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Recipient of 2007 The Hyde Park Historical Society Paul Cornell Award

At fifteen, Earl Burrus Dickerson stowed away on a train in Canton, Mississippi, fleeing the racial oppression of his native South. But Chicago, the boy's destination, was no haven of racial fairness and equality. His flight north was in fact the beginning of a journey that would last a lifetime—and would forever pit Dickerson against the forces of racial injustice. Earl B. Dickerson's story, told here for the first time, is one of courage and character, of remarkable accomplishment in the face of terrible odds; it is also emblematic of the twentieth-century struggle for civil rights—a crucial chapter of African American history as it was lived by one uncompromising individual.

In this book, Robert J. Blakely tells how Dickerson (1891-1986) worked his way through preparatory schools and college, a segregated officer's training school, and law school at the University of Chicago. The story follows Dickerson's career as general counsel to the first insurance company owned and operated by African Americans; the first African American Democratic alderman elected to the Chicago City Council; a member of FDR's first Fair Employment Practices Committee; leader of the movement that broke the color barrier to membership in the Illinois Bar Association; and, perhaps most famously, the power behind Hansberry v. Lee, the U.S. Supreme Court case that marked the beginning of the end of restrictive real estate covenants—one of the most pernicious legal tools of segregation in the North. Blakely gives us a sense of the man behind the achievements, the life that defied conventions and statistics, and the world in which "the dean of Chicago's black lawyers" became a pioneering architect for equal opportunity in American life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This biography sheds welcome light on the man who sat to the left of Martin Luther King at the 1963 March on Washington. Blakely's straightforward biography makes a meaningful contribution to African-American and Chicago history." —Publishers Weekly

"[A] portrait of its subject so full and affecting that it makes Earl B. Dickerson rise from the page and extend his hand to make your acquaintance." —Chicago Sun-Times

"Earl Dickerson is a household word at the University of Chicago Law School, where he was the first African American graduate and a standout as a student and an alumnus. Robert Blakely's book now shows a wider audience why Earl Dickerson's name is synonymous with courage, farsightedness, civil rights, and progressive pragmatism."

—Saul Levmore, Dean and William B. Graham Professor of Law, University of Chicago Law School

Publishers Weekly
This biography sheds welcome light on the man who sat to the left of Martin Luther King at the 1963 March on Washington. The first black graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and the first black alderman elected to the Chicago City Council, Dickerson arrived in the Windy City at age 15, as a stowaway on the Illinois Central Railroad. Finding the racial situation in Chicago pretty similar to the one he'd left behind in Mississippi, Dickerson spent the rest of his long and active life working toward its improvement. A man of prodigious energy, he was known as the "Dean of Chicago's Black Lawyers" (most notably, arguing Hansberry v. Lee in 1940; a harbinger of the end of racially restrictive covenants) and also became president of one of the largest black-owned insurance companies in America. While Blakely details Dickerson's major political and business accomplishments, he adds dimension to the man's life and gives the reader a keen sense of the African-American social and cultural history through his attention to Dickerson's involvement in Chicago's South Side. Though pedestrian in its prose style, Blakely's straightforward biography makes a meaningful contribution to African-American and Chicago history. (Mar.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810123359
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2006
  • Series: Chicago Lives Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 324
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert J. Blakely (1915-1994) was a prominent journalist, writer, and educator. He is the author of six books including To Serve the Public Interest: Educational Broadcasting in the United States, (Syracuse, 1979) and The People's Instrument: A Philosophy of Programming for Public Television (Public Affairs Press, 1971).

Marcus Shepard is a freelance editor and writer.

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Table of Contents

John Hope Franklin

Alta M. Blakely


Chapter One     The Early Years: From Mississippi to Chicago
Chapter Two     World War I and Its Aftermath: The Promise of Freedom
Chapter Three     Years of Emergence
Chapter Four     Alderman Dickerson
Chapter Five     The Fight Against Racially Restrictive Covenants
Chapter Six      The First Fair Employment Practices Committee
Chapter Seven      Consolidating Gains: Lawyer, Leader, and Activist
Chapter Eight      The Supreme Life Insurance Company
Chapter Nine      The Later Years: National Gadfly and Community Activist
Chapter Ten      Assessing a Life and a Man


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