History June 08, 2021 at 02:00 pm

The untold story of how the daughter of a 12-year-old slave girl became a millionaire in the 1800s

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor June 08, 2021 at 02:00 pm

June 08, 2021 at 02:00 pm | History

Amanda America Dickson Toomer. Public domain image, Courtesy Georgia Historical Society

In May this year, a Georgia historical marker was unveiled in downtown Augusta, commemorating the former home of Black millionaire Amanda America Dickson. Described as one of the richest Black women of the 19th century, Dickson spent the last seven years of her life at the home at 448 Telfair St.

“This whole project was to commemorate the life of Amanda, and I think we did it,” John Hocke, who helped renovate the home, said. Not much was known about Dickson in Hancock County until now.

She was born November 20, 1849, on the Dickson Plantation, near Sparta, Georgia (Hancock County) to a famous 40-year-old plantation owner David Dickson and a 12-year-old enslaved girl, Julia Francis Lewis. Being legally a slave, Dickson was owned by her white grandmother. She grew up in her father’s household, where she learned to read and write.

Despite being a slave, she was later much favored by her father and this enabled her to live comfortably in his house until 17 when she married her white first cousin, Charles Eubanks, in 1866. They had two children together but their marriage did not last long. In 1870, Dickson abandoned the marriage and went back to the Dickson Plantation with her children. There, she and her children legally took the last name of Dickson. Eubanks died two years later.

Between the years of 1876 and 1878, Dickson left her father’s plantation again to attend the Normal School of Atlanta University. In 1885, her father died, leaving the bulk of his estate to her. He willed to Dickson 15,000 acres of land and about $500,000, which Dickson’s biographer Dr. Kent Anderson Leslie said equals more than $3 million today, AP reported.

This sparked off two years of legal battles with Dickson’s white relatives. Outraged that a biracial, legally illegitimate woman was inheriting such great wealth, about 79 of her white relatives filed a lawsuit to prevent her from inheriting the property. Reports said the Superior Court of Hancock County ruled in favor of Dickson in 1885. The white relatives then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court decision in 1887. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Dickson “was legally entitled to the inheritance under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that property rights are equal for blacks and whites, including the offspring of black and white citizens,” one account wrote.

With the Georgia Supreme Court ruling, Dickson became the largest landowner in Hancock County, Georgia, and the wealthiest Black woman in the post-Civil War South.

But even before that ruling, she moved from the family plantation to Augusta, Georgia where he bought a large brick home at Telfair Street, in the most outstanding neighborhood in the city. The street was then largely a neighborhood for wealthy and mostly white businessmen. She received a lot of support from local prominent Blacks, becoming a popular member and donor at Trinity C.M.E. Church.

On July 14, 1892, Dickson married biracial attorney Nathan Toomer but she passed away less than a year later of what was said to be “nervous prostration,” after having taken ill during a train trip back to Augusta from Baltimore.

The 43-year-old, who had become the wealthiest African-American woman in Georgia, was reportedly “buried in her wedding dress, in a metallic coffin, which was lined in rose colored plush fabric.” She is buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Richmond County, Georgia.

According to the Edgefield Advertiser, Dickson “lived a quiet, easy, and unpretending life” despite being in “the possession of such riches.”

Though the property at 448 Telfair St. might not be Augusta’s most iconic building, its former resident could be described as the most interesting Augustan. “She was a very unique woman, and it’s nice to have her history here at this building to be sort of a symbol in Augusta,” Hocke said last December when Dickson’s home was undergoing an exterior restoration. “I think it’s a story Augusta would like to know.”

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