Two Dobbs Cousins

Two cousins on my mother’s-side were famous men in the first half of the 20th century, both living in Atlanta, Georgia. One was a sports figure during the silver-age of baseball and the other was an early civil rights activist.

John Gordon Dobbs (June 3, 1875 – September 9, 1934) was the grandson of my great, great-grandfather’s eldest brother, he and my grandfather were 2nd cousins.

According to the U.S. Census of 1860, John’s father Joseph D. Dobbs was living at home of Joseph’s grandfather David Dobbs in Marietta Georgia and not with the boy’s father in Chattanooga for reasons unknown.

John was an American professional baseball outfielder. He played five seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1901 to 1905 for the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Orphans/Cubs, and Brooklyn Superbas. From 1905 to the early 1930s, he was a manager in the minor leagues for the Birmingham Barons and the Atlanta Crackers.

John Wesley Dobbs (March 26, 1882 – August 30, 1961) was an African-American civic and political leader in Atlanta, Georgia. He and my grandfather were 3rd cousins once removed. He was often referred to as the unofficial “mayor” of Auburn Avenue, the spine of the black community in the city. His maternal grandfather was a white slave-owner who owned his maternal grandmother, and his paternal great-grandfather (Josiah Dobbs) was a white slave-owner who owned his paternal great-grandmother. Josiah Dobbs was the brother of my 3rd great-grandfather, David Dobbs. When Josiah died, all his slaves were acquired by his brother, David. The 1860 Census Slave Schedule list one of David Dobbs’ slaves as being mulatto, an 18-year-old female. This is believed to be Judi Dobbs, the grandmother of John Wesley Dobbs.

In 1948, when John Wesley Dobbs was 66, he accompanied Ray Sprigle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, when the reporter disguised himself as a light-skinned black man and traveled for 30 days in the Deep South. The story of Dobbs’ collaboration with Sprigle is told in detail in Steigerwald’s 2017 history book “30 Days a Black Man.”

His grandson, Maynard Jackson, was the first African American mayor of a major US city. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson airport bears his name.

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