John Wesley Dobbs helps integrate Atlanta

John Wesley Dobbs
Sun, 1882-12-03

The birth of John Wesley Dobbs in 1882 is celebrated on this date. He was an African American postal clerk, civic leader, and activist.

Often called the Unofficial "Mayor" of Auburn Avenue,
Dobbs was born in Marietta, Georgia. In 1897, he went to Atlanta, worked at a drugstore, and attended Atlanta Baptist College (Morehouse College). In 1903, Dobbs passed the U.S. postal exam to become a postal clerk and assumed a highly respected position for a Black man at the turn of the century. Three years later he married Irene Ophelia Thompson, and together they would have six daughters.

In 1911, Dobbs was initiated into the Prince Hall Masons, where, within three years he would become their Grand Warden. In 1932, he became Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons. Over the next 30 years, Dobbs was active as a speaker for the equality of Black America. In 1936, he spoke for 2 hours at big Bethal AME church to awaken the political conscience of Atlanta's 90,000 Blacks. He proposed that night to organize the Atlanta Civic and Political League to register 10,000 voters. In 1946, he was active in the formation of the Atlanta Negro Voters League (ANVL) This organization gathered 18,000 votes in 51 days- enough votes to convince Mayor Hartsfield to hire 8 Black policemen.

In 1948, Dobbs and Mayor Hartsfield had the City of Atlanta Police force integrated with 8 Black police officers. They were stationed in the basement of the Butler Street YMCA, but they could not arrest any White citizens.

John Wesley Dobbs was the grandfather of Maynard Jackson and he died on the evening of the day the Atlanta School System was desegregated in 1961. Twelve years after John Wesley Dobbs passed away in 1961, his grandson, Maynard Jackson Jr., won election as Atlanta's first Black mayor.

One of Jackson’s last actions as mayor was to push for legislation to change the name of Houston Street to John Wesley Dobbs Avenue and thus pay homage to his grandfather. Houston Street was the site of the Dobbs home, where all six Dobbs daughters grew up. The name change signified the role that John Wesley Dobbs played in registering Black voters and nurturing Black political power in Atlanta.

Contemporary Black Biography, various volumes
Edited by Shirelle Phelps
Copyright 1999 by Gale Research, Detroit, London
ISBN 0-7876-1275-8

Person / name: 

Dobbs, John Wesley