Which Legion founder was one of the first black aldermen on the Chicago City Council?
Earl Dickerson, a pioneering black lawyer. Born in Mississippi in 1891, he obtained a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1914. World War I broke out while he was working on a law degree from the University of Chicago. He enlisted upon reading President Woodrow Wilson’s war declaration to Congress, and led a platoon in northern France as a second lieutenant, as well as serving as an interpreter.
Remaining in France with his division after the war ended, Dickerson heard about and attended both the initial Paris Caucus that led to the formation of The American Legion, and the second caucus in St. Louis. He helped organize George L. Giles Post 87, a black post in Chicago still in existence today, and served as its commander for four years.
During that period, Dickerson had become the first black graduate of the University of Chicago Law School in 1920, which began a remarkable legal and political career advancing civil rights. He was the first black Democratic alderman to serve on Chicago’s City Council, from 1939-1943. He served as assistant state attorney general for Illinois. He argued a fair-housing case, Hansberry v. Lee, before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1940. He maintained his cause within the Legion, as well, arguing against the practice of allowing departments to approve (or disapprove) post charters, for fear that some may not have approved black posts’ charters like that of Post 87.
Dickerson received a life membership from the Legion during a testimonial dinner at Post 87 that then-Mayor Richard Daley Sr. attended. He died in Chicago in 1986, at 95.