In 1876, Isaac Dickson paid $275 for two tracts of land near present-day Charlotte Street, including Confederate captain and slave owner Thomas Patton’s former slave quarters. Mr. Dickson, who was himself formerly enslaved, rented houses on the property to freedmen. The area became known as Dicksontown.

By 1890, Mr. Dickson ran a general store, a coal yard, and a taxi service near his home at 139 Valley Street. Records show Mr. Dickson owned property within the boundaries of Eagle, South Market, Sycamore, and Valley streets, an area that would later be known as “The Block.” On Aug. 31, 1890, Mr. Dickson hosted the first public meeting of the Young Men’s Institute (YMI) which continues to promote social and economic opportunities for the Black community to this day.

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Mr. Dickson was also instrumental in purchasing Venus Lodge No. 62, the first Masonic lodge for Black residents of Asheville.

Perhaps his greatest legacy, though, was his role in creating Asheville’s public school system. In 1887, wealthy residents didn’t want to pay taxes to support public education, but former Republican congressman Richmond Pearson urged Black residents to support a proposal for public schools, promising to add a Black representative to the school board. When the proposal passed, Mr. Pearson kept his word and appointed Mr. Dickson to the school board.

Over the next few decades, until his passing in 1919, Mr. Dickson was instrumental in providing schools for the Black community. In 1891, city voters approved a bond issue to build more schools, including a Black high school on Catholic Hill. Mr. Dickson’s daughter, Mary Jane Dickson, taught in that school through the early 1900s.

Today, an elementary school is named in Mr. Dickson’s honor.