79 vs 1: Amanda America Dixon Toomer
The timing of David Dickson’s death made all the difference for his formerly enslaved only child.
An improbability held my attention for what seemed like hours, but truly it was about three minutes. I rubbed my eyes several times thinking this would clear the obvious mirage in front of me, but it remained on the page.
The page in question was a record of the births of Willis Roberts’ children. Willis Roberts was my third great grandfather. The names of his white children were written marquis style on the page. Jerry Roberts, Willis’ first-born child, was wedged in above the listing of Willis’ white children.
Someone intended J.B. Roberts to be acknowledged, but for what reason?
Jerry did not inherit any of his father’s wealth. My industrious second great grandfather made his way in life by working land he purchased in 1875. Some offspring of master-enslaved person relationships were heirs to their father’s fortunes. One incredible example is the story of Amanda America Dickson Toomer.
Amanda’s story needs to be told because it emphasizes the importance of civil rights laws.
A Troubling Beginning
Amanda America Dickson was born in November of 1849. Her 40- year- old father was known as “The Prince of Southern Farmers”. David Dickson was one of the wealthiest planters in Hancock County Georgia. Amanda’s father owned her mother. David impregnated Julia Francis Lewis Dickson when she was just twelve. Julia gave birth to Amanda at the age of thirteen. Amanda’s time alone with her mother was truncated because of David’s plans for his only child.
When Amanda was fully weaned, David took her into his home with every intention of affording his daughter privileges her mother would never have. The primary female influence in Amanda’s life was her White grandmother, Elizabeth Sholars Dickson.
Even though Amanda’s father and grandmother loved her dearly by all accounts, they could not emancipate the child based on Georgia laws.
Growing Up Dickson
Reading, writing, and piano lessons were part of Amanda’s daily life as a child. She spent hours on end in the company of her doting grandmother Elizabeth.
Amanda wore fine clothing, received lessons in social graces, and was referred to as Miss Mandy by everyone on the Dickson plantation. It is mind-blowing to fathom that Julia was her daughter’s house servant. An added duty for Julia involved slaking David’s lust. David married twenty-five-year-old Clara Harris when he was sixty-one; but he still carried on his sexual involvement with Julia.
Some accounts say that Amanda being prepared to enter white society was frowned upon by many Hancock County residents.
The Dicksons ignored the scandalous talk surrounding the family’s decisions regarding Amanda’s upbringing.
Amanda Declares Herself to Be an Orphan
Now I am an orphan.
-Amanda America Dixon, 1885
This statement uttered by Amanda as she clung to her father’s lifeless body on February 18, 1885 stuns me for two reasons. First, she was 44-years old at the time. Secondly, her mother Julia was very much alive. Amanda’s mind was whitewashed, but David’s relatives set out to remind her of “her place”.
David’s immediate family assumed they would inherit his vast fortune, but they were wrong. Clara Dickson preceded her husband in death, and David Dickson set aside around $30,000 for his surviving white relatives. Amanda received more in his will, a lot more!
· 15,000 acres in Hancock and Washington counties
· 13,00 acres in Texas
· Railroad stock
· Rights to Dickson’s seeds and compound formulas used to increase agricultural yields.
Some estimates appraise David’s wealth at around one million dollars. David’s only child was granted sole discretion in managing her father’s property.
Assets Battle Royale
Seventy-nine of David’s relatives contested the contents of his will. During the first trial the family asserted a myriad of false allegations. The family sought to discredit Amanda and say she was not even David’s daughter. There was no DNA testing in that day, but the resemblance is uncanny between father and daughter. In my Maury Povich voice I am declaring David the father!!!
A second allegation leveled against Amanda was that she tricked her father into making her the major heir of his fortune.
The court did not buy either argument; the jury ruled in favor of upholding David’s will.
The Final Victory
Dickson’s family members appealed the lower court decision and the case wound up in the Georgia Supreme Court. This time the family argued fornication was banned and interracial relationships were a felony, so the will should not be honored.
Erasing Amanda’s inheritance because of the circumstances of her birth did not turn out to be an easy task. After a two-year battle with disgruntled relatives, Amanda’s case was decided.
The decision was based on law and not public policies the family cited as a basis for separating Amanda from her rightful inheritance.
Under the 14th Amendment of the constitution of the United States… all distinctions as to the rights pertaining to citizenship between the two races are abolished, and as to their civil rights, they stand on the same footing.
-Georgia Supreme Court, June 13,1887
In other words, Blacks and whites were equal.
David Dickson educated his daughter so she was capable of fighting for her rights. Even though she was raised around white privilege, she was still a Black woman. We have to know our rights and be prepared to defend them no matter what obstacles may arise.
The constitution is not light reading by any means. I encourage you dear reader to familiarize yourself with the document that is the rule book for our country.
A mere nineteen years passed between the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment and David Dickson’s death. If Amanda’s father had passed away before the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments, her fate most likely would have been very different.
If you would like to learn more about Augusta’s first Black millionaire, please click here.
Bryant, Jonathan. “Race, Class, and Law in Bourbon Georgia: The Case of David Dickson’s Will.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 71, no. 2 (1987): 226–42. Accessed February 14, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40581659.
Cline, Damon. “Restoration Project, Historic Plaque to Shine Light on Augusta’s First Black Millionaire.” The Augusta Chronicle, Augusta Chronicle, 25 Dec. 2020, www.augustachronicle.com/story/news/local/2020/12/07/restoration-highlight-augustas-first-african-american-millionaire/3822225001/.
Fields, Tara. A Brief Timeline of Georgia Laws Relating to Slaves, Nominal Slaves, & Free Persons of Color, 14 Feb. 2004, www.glynngen.com/enslavement/slavelaw.htm.
Hardison, Brandon. 2020. “Today in our History — June 12, 1886 — Georgia Supreme Court sustained the will of David Dickson, making Amanda Eubanks the richest Negro in the USA”. Linkedin.com. Accessed February 14, 2021 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/today-our-history-june-12-1886-georgia-supreme-court-hardison
Leslie, Kent A. “Amanda America Dickson (1849–1893).” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 16 July 2020. Web. Accessed February 14, 2021.