Moses Dickson was an abolitionist, soldier, minister and founder of The Knights of Liberty, which planned a slave uprising in the United States and helped African American slaves to freedom. He also founded the Black self-help organization and was a co-founder of Lincoln University of Missouri.
Moses Dickson was born free in Cincinnati, one of nine children. At age sixteen, he toured the South, working as a barber on steamships. His travels landed him in St. Louis, where Dickson began his work for the abolition of slavery.
In 1846, Dickson and eleven others sought to end slavery in the United States. They formed a secret organization, The Knights of Liberty, which planned a national insurrection against slavery. The men took an oath of secrecy: “I can die, but I cannot reveal the name of any member until the slaves are free.”
In ten years, twelve men grew to a network of resistance that included 42,000 men across the South. A day was set for the national insurrection, but the country was on the verge of the Civil War. Dickson decided “a higher power” was at work and postponed the uprising.
The Knights of Liberty network was later used in the Underground Railroad, and a smaller secret organization, the Order of Twelve, aided hundreds of slaves to freedom. Moses Dickson raised funds for the Railroad and directly arranged individual escape plans, including Henry “Box” Brown shipped north in a wooden box.
The Knights disbanded during the Civil War, and many of their members, including Dickson, joined the Union Army. With the end of the Civil War, Dickson focused on education and economic development among the freed people.
Dickson became an ordained minister in the AME church and the Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons of Missouri. With other returning black Union soldiers, he also co-founded what is now Lincoln University.
Additionally, Moses Dickson was a founding member of the Missouri Equal Rights League and served as president of the Refugee Relief Board, which aided 16,000 African Americans from the South who ended up in St. Louis.
Dickson and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, had one daughter. He died of typhoid fever in 1901 and is buried at the Father Dickson Cemetery in Missouri.
Although Moses Dickson did most of his work to abolish slavery in Missouri, Ohio was a major player in the Underground Railroad. Of the estimated 100,000 slaves who escaped the South, nearly 40,000 are believed to have traveled through the Buckeye State.
The First 28, graciously sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, celebrates Black Cincinnatians who were the first in their fields. Each day during Black History Month, we will celebrate athletes, artists, business leaders, civil rights activists, educators, physicians and politicians.
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