Hattie Dickson, sister of Lillie Belle Allen, dies

Sean Philip Cotter

A quick Google search of her name brings up decade-old stories from the likes of the The New York Times, USA Today and CNN, but Hattie Dickson, who felt the pain of the 1969 race riots so acutely, was known mostly to her neighbors as "Mommy."

Roy Anderson said "It's sad the way things go," while talking about the death of his sister Hattie Dickson, Tuesday, April 19, 2016. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

"Mommy Hattie was the best of the best," said Veronica Melendez, who lived next door to her for about 13 years.

"She had a heart of gold," Melendez said, who paused before adding: "But don't mess with her."

She'd given Melendez and her husband, Robert Marquez, little bits of money and had driven them to the hospital many times to visit Melendez's ailing mother. But she was no pushover.

"If you brought s—, she'd bring the fire," Melendez said with a teary chuckle.

The 70-year-old Dickson, whose face and name became known to Yorkers 15 years ago during the trials regarding the murder of her sister Lillie Belle Allen during the race riots 30 years earlier, died Monday at York Hospital.

Race riots: On July 21, 1969, Dickson, who was black, was driving her sister through a white neighborhood during a summer already fraught with racial tension in York City. The car stalled on the train tracks on North Newberry Street. The 27-year-old Allen, who had stopped in York but lived in South Carolina, got out of the car and was shot to death by a mob of white people.

Violence, including the shooting death of young white York City Police Officer Henry Schaad, ensued over the next week, requiring the governor to call in the National Guard. At the time, no one was charged in either killing, but a grand jury impaneled 30 years later indicted various people in each, resulting in several convictions.

Robert N. Messersmith and Gregory H. Neff were convicted of second-degree murder in Allen's death in 2002 after a trial that included testimony from Dickson, according to York Dispatch archives. Charlie Robertson, who was a York City Police Officer in 1969 and mayor in 2002, was indicted on murder charges but was ultimately acquitted. Six other defendants pleaded guilty to lesser charges. The city eventually settled a federal civil-rights and wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Dickson and other members of Allen's family family for $2 million.

Neighbors and Robert Marquez, left, and Veronica Melendez remember Hattie Dickson as a woman with a "heart of gold," Tuesday, April 19, 2016. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

"I thank God we're finally coming to closure," Dickson said in 2005. But when the lawsuit was filed in January 2003, the preacher's daughter told the Dispatch: "I can't put a value on my sister's life."

At the end of Tuesday night's York City Council meeting, council president Carol Hill-Evans took a moment to acknowledge Dickson's passing.

"We offer our condolences to the family," she said.

'A good woman': Roy Anderson, an adopted brother of Allen and Dickson, lived with Dickson in a house they owned in York City for the past 20 years. On Tuesday's warm, sunny afternoon, he leaned against the fence outside his property, his one good eye gazing out onto Pattison Street from under a baseball cap, and quietly remembered his sister.

"She was a good woman," he said.

Anderson, 72, said the long-ago tragedy never really left Dickson.

"It made her sick — she really suffered," he said. "It's sad, the way things go."

Dickson, whose maiden name was Mosley, was preceded in death by her husband of 40 years, Murrey Dickson, according to her obituary. Her viewing will be from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.  Friday at the Gladfelter Funeral Home, 822 E. Market St., followed by a service officiated by her brother, the Rev. Henry Mosley.

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.