The Smartest Woman in Wasilla, Alaska (And It’s Not Who You Think)


Wasilla, Alaska, as we all know by now, was the town of over 6,000 inhabitants where Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, gained much of her executive and foreign policy experience as city council member from 1996 to 2002 and as mayor from 1996 to 2002. Ms. Palin attended Hawaii Pacific College, North Idaho Community College, the University of Idaho, Matanuska-Susitna Community College, before finally earning her B.S. degree in communications, again at the University of Idaho in 1987. While juggling her intense academic schedule, Ms. Palin managed to win the Miss Wasilla beauty pageant. After graduation, she became a sports reporter for local television stations and a sportswriter for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman a semi-weekly publication. Her meteoric rise to the national stage has surprised many in Alaska, as well as, the citizens of the lower 48. One could only conclude that with these exploits, she would be the best and brightest from Wasilla, right? WRONG!

Has anyone ever heard of Mahala Ashley Dickerson?

Let me describe the life of this Wasilla resident. Mahala Ashley Dickerson was born in Alabama, the daughter of school teachers in 1912. She graduated from Howard University’s School of Law and earned a law degree in 1945. No small feat for a divorced woman with three small children (triplets no less) at the time. A few years later she became the first African-American woman admitted to the Alabama State Bar. The list of her “firsts” did not stop there. In the late 1950’s, she and her three children decided to move to Alaska. She was the first black homesteader in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the borough (county) that Wasilla is located. She began her law practice in Anchorage in 1959, becoming the first African-American admitted to the Alaska Bar. While practicing law she championed many minority and gender equality cases. In 1983, she was elected the first African American to serve as president of the National Association of Women Lawyers. Her career was highlighted when she was the recipient of the American Bar Association’s prestigious Margaret Brent Award in 1995. In addition, she was a life long friend of civil rights pioneer, Rosa Parks.
Ms. Dickerson died on February 19, 2007 in Wasilla.

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