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Hattie Dickson, Lillie Belle Allen's sister, has died

Written by Mike Argento and Teresa Boeckel/The York Daily Record | Apr 20, 2016 8:36 AM
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Lillie Belle Allen's daughter Debra Taylor, left, Allen's sister, Hattie Dickson, center, and Allen's son, Michael Allen, right, stand at a podium outside the York County court house to comment on the second day of the preliminary hearing on the shooting death of Allen during the York City race riots in 1969. Fiel, York Daily Record

She was driving the car the night her sister was murdered during the 1969 riots in York.

(York) -- Hattie Dickson's father, James Moseley, was a preacher.

"He taught us how to endure and be patient," Dickson's sister, Jennie Settles, said.

It was a lesson that Dickson took to heart. It gave her strength, resolve and determination, qualities she relied upon as she awaited the day that her sister, Lillie Belle Allen, killed in an ambush during the 1969 race riots in York, would receive some modicum of justice.

She had to wait a little more than 33 years. But she finally saw that day when the men responsible for her sister's death were brought to justice.

She played a large role in that. By the time of the trial in 2002, she was the lone survivor of those who were in the car in York that night in July 1969 when a group of white people opened fire on her and her family.

She was driving.

From that day, it was something she had to live with.

"She carried a lot of scars with her," Settles, 72, said of her younger sister, "and a lot of memories."

Dickson, 70, died Monday morning at York Hospital.

Dickson was driving the family's Cadillac on North Newberry Street on July 21, 1969 when she saw gunmen preparing to fire at her and her family. The car stalled on the railroad tracks, and was hit by a barrage of bullets fired by white gang members.

Lillie Belle Allen got out of the car to take the wheel to drive them to safety. But the 27-year-old mother of two from Aiken, South Carolina, was shot and mortally wounded.

For years, the family sought truth and justice. Faith and patience carried them through.

"How long must we wait Lord?" Hattie Dickson said she questioned over the years.

Dickson was born Aug. 24, 1945, in Aiken, one of James and Beatrice Moseley's eight children. She moved up north in the '60s; her husband, Murrray, had family in York.

Her sisters said Dickson didn't talk much about what happened that night. It was a heavy burden. And her father had told her not to discuss it and to let God take care of it.

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Hattie Dickson takes a moment before discussing her feelings about the recent arrests in connection with Lillie Belle Allen's death during the riots of 1969. Lillie Belle Allen's other sister Gladys Oden is pictured in the background. File, York Daily Record

She was quiet for a reason. Her younger sister, Gladys Moseley, 60, said, "She had to live here." And walking down the street, looking at the faces of white men passing by, she could never know whether one of them was the man who murdered her sister.

"It changed her whole life," Settles said. "It was a traumatic experience for her and our whole family."

As the years passed, her sisters said, Dickson never lost faith that those responsible for her sister's death would face justice, whether delivered by a jury of their peers or by her God.

"Her faith gave her a lot of strength," Moseley said.

She remained steadfast, her sisters said, determined that her sister's life would be remembered and that those killed her would pay for their sins.

"We didn't try to seek vengeance," Settles said. "We stayed steadfast in our faith, and we knew that, one day, God would give us justice."

The delivery of justice by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania did not begin until 2000, when the York County District Attorney's office reopened the investigation into the deaths of Allen and York City Police Officer Henry Schaad, forever placed together as the two who perished during that madness in the summer of 1969.

Former York Mayor Charles Robertson was charged - but acquitted by a jury in October 2002 - of murder in the case. Robertson, who was a police officer at the time of the riots, was accused of inciting young white gang members to arm themselves and shoot blacks in the summer of 1969.

Robert Messersmith and Greg Neff were convicted of second-degree murder during a trial in October 2002. Seven other defendants had reached plea agreements: Rick Lynn Knouse, Arthur N. Messersmith, Clarence "Sonny" Lutzinger, Thomas P. Smith, Chauncey C. Gladfelter, William Ritter and Ezra Slick.

Dickson testified during the trial as the last surviving person who was in the car that night. Her husband and her parents survived, but had passed away in the ensuing years.

"She was the only one left to tell what happened," Settles said. "It was a lot of heaviness on her."

Moseley said, "It was a huge burden on her to be the sole witness."

After the jury's verdict, Hattie Dickson said she felt her family had finally received some measure of justice.

At the time, she said, "I'm not sad. I feel sort of disappointed, and yet I know that whatever God's will is so be it. And I have to focus myself not on what man is doing, but what God's doing because he is the author of all this and not we ourselves...

"We're not going to stop here. We are a family that is strong, and we're going to continue to investigate the rest of the people that was involved in this tragedy of my sister Lillie Belle. And I know that she would want us to," Dickson said after the trial.

The family retained Philadelphia civil rights attorney Harold Goodman to continue the investigation, filing a suit that alleged that former cops had instigated violence against African-Americans during the riots and that the city had covered up their roles.

Goodman won the family a $2 million settlement from the City of York in 2005, and became a close friend of the family. Settles described him as a member of the family.

Goodman described Dickson as "courageous and determined" and said she was "key in bringing justice in the case."

"Hattie Dickson was a quiet leader," he said. "She never forgot and was determined that her sister did not die in vain and would be remembered."

Dickson, her family said, not only carried the scars from the night; she also carried a lot of anger, anger she never expressed publicly. "It took a long time for her anger to subside," Settles said. "It never really went away. She couldn't really express her anger. She had to live here."

She turned that anger into determination.

"She was a fighter," Moseley said. "It was really hard for her. She had some rough moments. But she endured."

After the lawsuit settlement, Dickson rarely talked about that night.

"I'm glad it's all over, and I'm leaving it all behind," she said at the time. "I don't want to talk about it anymore."

TIMELINE

July 17, 1969 - The riots began when a black youth, Taka Nii Sweeney, 17, was shot. Fighting between white and black gangs raged through the night.

July 18 - York City Police Officer Henry C. Schaad, 22, was shot while patrolling in one of the city's two armored trucks. He died Aug. 1.

July 19 - Then-Mayor John L. Snyder declared a state of emergency on July 19. State police were called in to assist York City police in fighting the violence.

July 21 - Lillie Belle Allen, 27, visiting her sister in York from her hometown of Aiken, S.C., was shot and killed on North Newberry Street.

July 22 - National Guard troops rolled into town and Gov. Raymond P. Shafer declared a state of emergency.

July 23 - The violence ebbed.

September 2000 - A grand jury was impaneled to investigate the murders of Schaad and Allen.

April 26, 2001 - The grand jury recommended that 11 people be arrested in connection with Allen's murder.

Oct. 30, 2001 - Two men, Stephen Freeland and Leon Wright, were arrested in connection with Schaad's murder.

Aug. 14, 2002 - Four men accused in Allen's killing - Rick Knouse, Clarence "Sonny" Lutzinger, William Ritter and Thomas Smith - entered guilty pleas to lesser charges. Arthur Messersmith later pleaded guilty to felony attempt to kill.

Oct. 19, 2002 - Robert Messersmith and Gregory H. Neff were convicted of second-degree murder. Former Mayor Charlie Robertson was acquitted.

Jan. 29, 2003 - Allen's family filed a civil suit against the city and five former police officers. The city later settled the suit out of court.

March 13, 2003 - Freeland and Wright were convicted of second-degree murder.

Jan. 21, 2004 - Leon Wright's brother, Michael, was arrested in New Orleans in connection with Schaad's murder. He later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and was released after serving 86 days in jail.

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record

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