John Wesley Dobbs founded a number of civil rights organizations in Atlanta in the 1930s and 1940s. A King family friend, Dobbs heard Martin Luther King, Jr., preach one of his early sermons at Ebenezer Baptist Church and said, hugging him: "Young man, you're gonna deliver. You've got the stuff!" (Pomerantz, 161).
Born near Marietta, Georgia, Dobbs spent two years at Morehouse College before entering the U.S. Railway Mail Service where he worked for thirty-two years. Dobbs was elected Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Lodge of the Free and Accepted Masons, Jurisdiction of Georgia in 1932 and was re-elected yearly until his death. During the 1930s and 1940s he founded the Georgia Voters League and the Atlanta Civic and Political League and was co-founder of the Atlanta Negro Voters League.
The Martin Luther King, Sr. and Dobbs families became well acquainted when the King family moved to Boulevard Street, near the Dobbs’s house, in 1941. June Dobbs Butts, one of the John Wesley Dobbs’s daughters, recalled “we kids formed a club comprised of the three King children, the two Burney first cousins and ourselves--the two youngest of the six Dobbs sisters.” (Butts, “Good memories”).
In October 1960, when King was arrested for violating his probation by participating in a sit-in, Dobbs testified on his behalf at the trial in DeKalb County, prompting a letter of appreciation from King: “While I cannot at all boast of being worthy of the generous and gracious comments that you made concerning my character, I can assure you that such expressions of support and confidence are of inestimable value for the continuance of my humble efforts” (King, 1 December 1960).
Following Dobbs's death in August 1961 King delivered the invocation at his funeral, praising God “for giving to Atlanta, for giving to Georgia, for giving to the nations, for giving to America such a noble life” (King, 2 September 1961). In 1994 Atlanta renamed Houston Street, where Dobbs had lived for 52 years, John Wesley Dobbs Avenue.
June Dobbs Butts, “Good memories of a great man’s childhood,” Tennessean, 18 January 1993.
King, Invocation delivered at funeral of John Wesley Dobbs at Big Bethel AME Church, 2 September 1961, JWD-ARC-LNT.
King to Dobbs, 1 December 1960, MLKP-MBU.
Pomerantz, Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, 1996.