John Wesley Dobbs
John Wesley Dobbs was born March 26, 1882 in Marietta, Georgia to Minnie and Will Dobbs and grew up in poverty on a farm near Kennesaw. Two years after his birth his mother and father separated. His mother moved to Savannah to work in the home of a white family there, leaving Dobbs and his sister in the care of his grandparents and various other relatives. Minnie saw her children regularly, though, and in 1891 they moved to Savannah to live with her. Mr. Dobbs was later 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. J. W. Dobbs became a member of the Prince Hall Masons in 1911. In 1932, and he was elected Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons (a post he held for the rest of his life) earning him the nickname, “The Grand”. Mr. Dobbs utilized this post, as well as his presidency of the AtlantaCivic and Political League and then his later involvement in ANVIL to increase black voter registration.
When J. W. Dobbs started his registration drives in 1936, less than 600 blacks were registered to vote in Atlanta. His goal was to register 10,000 people, 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 Mr. 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 on August 30,1961, 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.
A monument honoring this great man 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. We are proud that our school is named for a man who has made such a long lasting contribution to our beloved city, and our students will continue to represent his name with honor.