Black History Month: Chris Dickerson
For 40 years, IDEA and its members have helped shape the fitness industry through education and community; but not every fitness pioneer’s contributions have been recognized. In honor of #BlackHistoryMonth, IDEA celebrates and recognizes Chris Dickerson, a Black health leader who didn’t let the constraints of the Jim Crow-era south prevent him from breaking barriers in the bodybuilding world.
Over three decades, Dickerson, nicknamed “Diamond calves,” won 15 professional bodybuilding titles across four organizations. Lauded for his “dense and symmetrical physique and graceful posing style,” he was the first Black man to win the Mr. America contest (1970).
Born Henri Christophe Dickerson in 1939, in Montgomery, Alabama, his mother was a lawyer and civil rights activist and his father was a former bellhop who became an executive at the Cleveland Trust Company. After graduating from Olney Friends School in 1957, Dickerson moved to New York City to study opera, acting and ballet at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. It was his voice teacher who suggested he lift weights to “open his tenor range.” He took third place in his first competition in 1965 and went on to be a legend in the bodybuilding world.
Dickerson was also the first openly gay winner of the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB) Mr. Olympia contest, and one of only two bodybuilders—the other one being Dexter Jackson—to win titles in both the Mr. Olympia and Masters Olympia competitions. He retired after winning the 50+ division at the 1994 Masters Olympia and was inducted into the IFBB Hall of Fame in 2000. Dickerson continued to train, teach seminars and inspire other athletes until his death in December 2021.