The Frat Boy, the Flapper, and a Lost Cause

JM Dobbs, Jr. 1917

I was searching Google Books for some information on my great-grandfather, James M. Dobbs, Sr., and as I was sifting through items where he was mentioned that I had seen previously, I came across a couple of hits for his son, my maternal grandfather, James Monroe Dobbs, Jr. One discovery was kind of funny: the other, not so much. In two books published a little over 100 years ago, I found my grandfather mentioned. The title of the volume was “The Kappa Alpha Journal” vol 37, no. 1 November, 1920 and vol 38,no.1 November, 1921 .

This was a quarterly journal published by a college fraternity that had been founded in the 1860s. I found my grandfather, in the section for the chapter at Oglethorpe University located in a suburb of Atlanta. It appears that in 1920, he was a freshman in college, and at that time, his parents were living in College Park, another suburb of Atlanta.

Here’s the paragraph that describes the new pledges at Oglethorpe in the fall of 1920.

JM Dobbs, Jr. 1926

“Our men are interested in all phases of college life and have already brought various honors to the chapter. Brother Knox has led his 11 into the limelight in gallant fashion, by playing the leading teams of the South. He is a star halfback, and it is rumored that he undoubtedly will be picked on the mythical All-Southern grid team. As a running mate to Knox, brother Turner shone as fullback. The past spring brothers Turk and Hope, battery mates for their alma mater, were selected on the All-Southern nine. Brothers Hope and Staton are assistant managers of the foot-ball and base-ball teams, respectively. Freshman Dobbs, because of his loud voice and shimmy movements was elected cheerleader.”

When I read this paragraph to my sister, she laughed and said, “So, that’s where grandma learned to dance! You know, she taught me how to do the shimmy.”

And that was the funny part.

The not-so-funny part was that the fraternity that he pledged is quite possibly the most notoriously racist fraternity in American history. It was founded by former Confederate soldiers in the winter of 1865 and was originally went by the more traditional Greek sobriquet Phi Kappa Chi but changed it to the Kappa Alpha Order. Its motto is Dieu et Les Dames (God and the ladies), and it claimed Robert E Lee as its spiritual leader. They looked upon themselves as a chivalric Christian knighthood – think KKK but without the robes and burning crosses.

The fraternal order endorsed a version of the Lost Cause narrative and described itself as “Southern in our loves, we take [Stonewall] Jackson and [Robert E.] Lee as models of character. Aryan in blood, we exclude the African from membership.”

Kappa Alpha Order members saw themselves as the cultural warriors of the Lost Cause. Whereas the Ku Klux Klan-ers were the working-class thugs, the boys in the KA were the gentlemen who would dress up in Confederate uniforms and woo their Southern belle girlfriends at magnolia scented cotillions. Also, there would be the occasional blackface and all that jazz. Take For Example, in 1994, when Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves was a Kappa Alpha member at Millsaps College and the members of the chapter reportedly held a party that involved wearing blackface, afro wigs, and “Confederate flags around their necks”

In the second entry from November 1921, I found for my grandfather’s Greek life an entry where he was listed as a student at the University of Georgia. He had recently transferred there.

He may have had to transfer from the private Oglethorpe University to the state university located in Athens, Georgia, due to financial reasons. When my great-grandfather died in December 1922, it appears that my grandfather had to quit school altogether. In the Atlanta city directory for 1923, James Monroe Dobbs, Jr. is listed as living with his mother in College Park and working as a clerk for the Royal Insurance Company. (This sounds like the back story for a Tennessee Williams play).

This would seem to contradict what I had previously learned. According to his obituaries, he graduated from the University of Georgia law school in 1923. My grandmother added that he never took the bar. Or was it that he never passed the bar?

In 1925, my grandparents eloped and were married by the Justice of the Peace in Chattanooga.

Here is some “Lost Cause” propaganda from 1922 espoused by the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity in regard to Reconstruction, a major pain point for white Southerners of the “planter class” in the years following the Civil War:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s