John Wesley Dobbs

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John Wesley Dobbs

John Wesley Dobbs (March 26, 1882 – August 30, 1961), an African-American civic and political leader, was often referred to as unofficial "mayor" of Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dobbs, educated at Atlanta Baptist College (which later became Morehouse College), passed a civil service exam and became a railway mail clerk for the Post Office in 1903, a position he held for 32 years. Dobbs married Irene Ophelia Thompson in 1906, and they had six daughters, all of whom graduated from Spelman College. One daughter, Mattiwilda Dobbs, became a notable opera singer while another daughter, Ophelia Josephine Dobbs Clement was on the city board of education in Durham, NC where she led integration and discussions about race. Dobbs became a member of the Prince Hall Masons in 1911. In 1932, he was elected Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons (a post he held for the rest of his life).

Believing that enfranchisement was the key to overcoming segregation, Dobbs started a voter registration drive in 1936 with a goal of registering 10,000 voters. That year, Dobbs founded the Atlanta Civic and Political League, and in 1946 along with A.T. Walden, he co-founded the Atlanta Negro Voters League. During the 1930s and 1940s, laws keeping blacks from voting were found to be unconstitutional. Between 1936 and 1946, 20,000 African-American voters were registered in Atlanta. With the power of the black vote behind him, Dobbs convinced Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield to integrate Atlanta's police force in 1948 and install gas lights along Auburn Avenue in 1949.

In 1948, Dobbs accompanied Ray Sprigle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when the reporter disguised himself as a black man and traveled in the South. The 21-part syndicated newspaper series entitled I Was a Negro in the South for 30 Days was later released as the book, In the Land of Jim Crow.

John Wesley Dobbs died on August 30, 1961, aged 79, the same week the Atlanta city schools desegregated. His family home still stands at 540 John Wesley Dobbs Avenue (formerly Houston Street).

Houston Street was renamed in Dobbs's honor by Maynard Jackson in 1994. Jackson, the first African-American mayor of Atlanta, was Dobbs' grandson.[1] A statue of Dobbs, erected in 1996, stands along Auburn Avenue.


  1. ^ Moore, David Aaron (2010-02-26). "For Black History Month: What's in a street name?". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 


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