June 24, 2021

Issac Dickson – Founder of North Carolina’s Young Men’s Institute

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History lived an African American man named Issac Dickson who was an entrepreneur and community developer through co-founding the Young Men’s Institute.


Issac Dickson was born in Shelby, North Carolina in or around the year of 1837. His mother, Rachel Wheeler, was an enslaved Black woman in the state, and his father was a white man named Andy Peeler, according to death records. At the abolition of slavery, Issac became free, and left his birth home.

In 1869, Dickson married to Cordelia Reed Dickson, and they had eleven children, however, only nine of them were alive according to the 1910 census. The known names of some of their children were Mary J., John C., Anna B., David B., Bryant, Rachel, and Lizzie A, and they were all born in North Carolina where the family lived in the city of Asheville in their own home[2].

He supported his family as an real estate entrepreneur with land that he bought near Charlotte Street. From the purchase of that land which was called Dicksontown, he rented out the land[3]. Therefore, he contributed much to the growth of the community through social objectives.

Issac Dickson & the Young Man’s Institute

In 1910, he was listed as being a Janitor at a Bank at the age of 70 years old and he was mortgage free, owning his own home, but there was much more to Issac Dickson than what was on census papers. He was co-founder of the Young Man’s Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, which was built in 1892, having founded it with another Black entrepreneur named Edward Stephens.

The Young Man’s Institute (YMI) contributed so much to the plight of African Americans at this time in the south. The YMI held many events and activities for the black community. One example of these publicized events was a concert that was held during the month of June in 1895, only a couple of years after it’s launch. The event was performed by older people of the community, and the concert was called “Old Time Songs and Ways”[4]. Other events that took place at the YMI were author and writer reading events, one called “Readings From Popular Authors” in 1894 during the month of February, and the readings were very animated and entertaining[5].

The Young Man’s Institute was another valuable way that proved how African Americans could provide and manage for themselves very well, despite what the segregated and racist South thought. Black people of Asheville alone and since 1906 “are capable of managing the affairs of the institute unaided”, reported The Asheville-Gazette News, “They have also demonstrated that the work they are doing for the race is well worth the money spent.[6]

This wasn’t news to Black people. Black people always had confidence and intelligence along with the ability to do all things because even in the days of enslavement, it was African Americans who did it anyway. This was, however, big news to white people who had been raised to think of Black people were people who couldn’t, which was never the case. Therefore, whenever Black people created and managed something, it made the news as “proof”.

The YMI also accomplished the feat of taking over where the police once patrolled in the Black area. The patrol from police was not needed anymore. The YMI handled that portion of community as well. Where there were once youth with nothing to do, those same youth found much to do at the YMI, being raised in a way that was far different from just one or two different generations before them. They were being surrounded with options and opportunity in a place of their own, something that was new for that area in North Carolina.

The Young Man’s Institute provided areas for sports, music, swimming and even a full library, all for the wellness of African Americans. Being that the YMI provided a full source of support to the African American community, it isn’t out of bounds to realize that Issac Dickson also contributed to the school system in the area as well through massive donations along with lending his ideas as part of the school board[7]. He is thought to be the first African American on the school board. There is now a school named after him – Issac Dickson Elementary School in Asheville.

Not only was Issac Dickson a founder of the YMI, but he was founder of Venus Lodge No. 62 of Masonic Lodge[8].

Death

Issac Dickson passed away on March 17, 1919 in Asheville, North Carolina of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Sources

  • Year: 1880; Census Place: Asheville, Buncombe, North Carolina; Roll: 954; Page: 134C; Enumeration District: 034
  • Year: 1910; Census Place: Asheville Ward 1, Buncombe, North Carolina; Roll: T624_1099; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 0004; FHL microfilm: 1375112
  • [3,7,8]AVL Today; https://avltoday.6amcity.com/black-entrepreneurs-asheville-nc/
  • [4]Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina) 12 Jun 1895, Wed Page 4
  • [5]Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina) 10 Feb 1894, Sat Page 4
  • [6]Asheville Gazette-News (Asheville, North Carolina)26 May 1911, Fri Page 6