John Wesley Dobbs
Unofficial "Mayor" of Auburn Avenue
"Get the vote and the dollar and you'll walk in Jerusalem just like John".
"Bucks, ballots, and books" are the key to African American freedom. - John Wesley Dobbs
1882 - Born in Marietta, Georgia.
1897 - Came to Atlanta, worked at Dr. James McDougals Drugstore at the corner of Piedmont and Houston Street, and attended Atlanta Baptist College (Morehouse College).
1903 - Passed the US Postal Exam to become a postal clerk and assumed a highly respected position for a black man at the turn of the century.
1906 - Marries Irene Ophelia Thompson.
1908 - Rene Dobbs is born.
1911 - Initiated into the Prince Hall Masons
1914 - Becames Grand Warden of the Prince Hall Masons.
1925 - Matiwilda Dobbs is born.
1932 until death in 1960 - Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons.
1936 - Feb. 12. Dobbs speaks for 2 hours at Big Bethal to awaken the political conscience of Atlanta's 90,000 blacks. He proposes that night to organize the Atlanta Civic and Political League to register 10,000 voters. Twenty- eight-year-old C.A. Scott at The Daily World backs him up the next day in his newspaper.
1937 - Completed the first phase of the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge at 332-224 Auburn Avenue.
1946 - Formation of the Atlanta Negro Voters League (ANVL) by Attorney A.T. Walden (Democrat) and John Wesley Dobbs (Republican). The All Citizens Registration Committee is formed simultaneously. These organizations gathered 18,000 votes in 51 days- enough votes to convince Hartsfield to hire 8 black policemen. The Butler Street YMCA is ANVILS meeting facility.
1948 - April 3. Mayor Hartsfield keeps his promise to organized African-American voters - the City of Atlanta Police force is integrated with 8 black police officers. They are stationed in the basement of the Butler Street YMCA and cannot arrest white citizens. John Wesley Dobbs is there with his grandson Maynard Jackson when they first walk down the Avenue.
1949 - Mayor Hartsfield keeps his promise to African-American voters and street lights are installed down Auburn Avenue.
1961 - Died on the evening of the day the Atlanta School System was desegregated.
1994 - Jan. 10. Houston Street is renamed John Wesley Dobbs Avenue.
1997 - John Wesley Dobbs Plaza on Auburn Avenue is given the Award of Excellence by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission.
John Wesley Dobbs was known as the unofficial "mayor" of Sweet Auburn. He and his wife Irene raised six daughters (including Rennie Dobbs Jackson and Matiwilda Dobbs Janzon - all Spellman graduates) in a house purchased in 1909 at 540 Houston Street, now John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, a few blocks north of Sweet Auburn Avenue. For decades Dobbs worked for the U.S. Postal Service, but his true calling was as Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons, a post he attained in 1932 that earned him the nickname "the Grand." Dobbs utilized this post, as well as his presidency of the Atlanta Civic and Political League and then his later involvement in ANVIL to increase black voter registration.
When Dobbs started his registration drives in 1936, less than 600 blacks were registered to vote in Atlanta. Dobbs goal was to register 10,000, firmly believing that the power of the ballot was key in overcoming segregation. In the following 10 years several state laws hobbling black voters were struck down as unconstitutional. After a record breaking 20,000 voters were registered, Mayor Hartsfield kept his promise and several of Dobbs goals were reached- in 1948 eight black police officers were hired by the city of Atlanta and in 1949 street lights were installed down his beloved Auburn Avenue. John Wesley Dobbs died on the evening of the day the Atlanta School System was desegregated.
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 Maynard Jackson Jr.'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.
The John Wesley Dobbs Monument (at the top of the page) called Through His Eyes by sculptor Ralph Helmick, was built during the 1996 Olympics. It is interactive; a participant can look through John Wesley Dobbs visionary eyes up Auburn Avenue to what was once the most active business area.