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
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
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
1914- Becames Grand Warden of the Prince
1925- Matiwilda Dobbs is
1932 until death in 1960- Grand Master of the Prince
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
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 left and
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.
The following link is a radio speech John
Wesley Dobbs gave on December 2, 1939 called "I
saw the stars".