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Monday August 2nd, 2021 12:29PM

Georgia plaque honors 19th century Black female millionaire

By The Associated Press
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Harrell Lawson grew up in Hancock County in the 1960s, listening to tales about the old plantation across the road.

“I used to hear stories about how a Black woman used to own it, but I didn’t know my relation to her at the time,” he said.

More people know now. On May 21, a Georgia historical marker was unveiled in downtown Augusta to mark the home at 448 Telfair St. where Amanda America Dickson Toomer – perhaps the richest Black woman of the 19th century – spent the last seven years of her life.

Lawson, who maintains homes in Stone Mountain and Sparta, joined about a dozen other Toomer descendants at the marker ceremony in front of a renovated exterior that took months for John Hock, the house’s owner, to complete with a team of subcontractors.

While the outside has been repainted, refitted and repaired to match its original appearance, the inside has more modern features and will continue to be used as an attorney’s office.

“This whole project was to commemorate the life of Amanda, and I think we did it,” Hock said.

Elyse Butler, historical marker manager for the Georgia Historical Society, said the Toomer marker represents the latest stop on the Georgia Civil Rights Trail, consisting of more than 40 markers statewide.

Augusta’s support of the marker program is “helping tell the story of our shared past and to ensure our history is not forgotten,” Butler said.

Corey Rogers, resident historian at the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History, credited Dr. Lee Ann Caldwell, director of the Center for the Study of Georgia History at Augusta University; businesswoman Dee Crawford; and Historic Augusta Executive Director Erick Montgomery for their shared work with him in successfully acquiring the marker. Only five of them are issued statewide each year.

WHO WAS AMANDA AMERICA DICKSON TOOMER?

Dickson was born in 1849 to prominent Hancock County plantation owner David Dickson and a 12-year-old slave. Legally a slave owned by her white grandmother, the biracial child was reared in her father’s household. She learned to read and write, and assumed the social graces of white Southern affluence.

When David Dickson died in 1885, he willed to Amanda 15,000 acres of land and about $500,000, which Amanda’s biographer Dr. Kent Anderson Leslie said equals more than $3 million today. Other modern estimates place the amount even higher.

Scores of Dickson’s white relatives emerged to contest the will, outraged at the prospect of a biracial, legally illegitimate woman inheriting such immense wealth in the post-Civil War South. But Leslie said at the ceremony last Friday that the young heiress had a plan.

“She let it be known that if they upheld the will, she would forgive all the debts to her farmers,” Leslie said. That totaled 147 people – including two members of her trial jury. Amanda won her case, and the Georgia Supreme Court later upheld it.

She moved to Augusta in 1886 and into the house on Telfair, built in 1851 by Elijah Robertson. Snubbed by the city’s white community, Amanda was welcomed by local prominent Blacks, and she became a prominent member and donor at Trinity C.M.E. Church.

On July 14, 1892, Dickson married biracial attorney Nathan Toomer. Less than a year later, she died of what one obituary called “nervous prostration,” after falling ill during a train trip back to Augusta from Baltimore.

Harrell Lawson is Toomer’s first cousin six times removed on her father’s side, and a first cousin five times removed on her mother’s side. With dozens of people pitching in to raise Toomer’s prominence, he gives special credit to the historical figure’s biographer.

“When Kent Leslie did her research and so forth, then she allowed us to take those bits of history that we knew about and tie them together,” he said.

  • Associated Categories: Local/State News, Associated Press (AP), AP Online - Georgia News
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