Charles Gordon Dobbins (1908-1988) was a journalist and educator who is best remembered for espousing moderately liberal views in his writings. Notably, Dobbins spoke out against lynching, poll taxes, white citizen’s councils, and suffrage restrictions during some of the most turbulent times in Alabama and American history. He served as either a journalist or editor for a number of major Alabama publications, most notably the Montgomery Advertiser, the Anniston Times, and the self-published Montgomery Examiner and later worked for the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., and served as its executive secretary.
Charles Dobbins Dobbins was born on August 15, 1908, in Greensboro, Hale County. He was the only child of John Gordon Dobbins and Mantie Edgar Wolf Dobbins. His father was a Baptist minister and graduate of Howard College (present-day Samford University). Like Charles did later, John publicly opposed some of the harsher elements of segregation and was not afraid to voice his opinions, even going so far as to speak up at a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. The Dobbins family moved around fairly often throughout his young adult life due primarily to his father’s work. As a result, Dobbins gained a unique perspective on issues such as race and education in Alabama. He showed signs of his future as an ambitious journalist early on. He started a paper route for the Montgomery Advertiser in Hurtsboro, Russell County, and after his family moved to Luverne, Crenshaw County, in 1923, Dobbins became the paper’s local correspondent while also doing work for the Crenshaw County News and the Luverne High School newspaper. John Dobbins supported his son’s interest in journalism, buying him his first typewriter during his high school years and encouraging him to study journalism in college after he graduated in 1925.
Upon his father’s insistence, Dobbins followed in his father’s footsteps and attended Howard College, earning a B.A. in journalism, Dobbins went on to obtain a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. After college, Dobbins moved from place to place, much like his family had done in his early years, and experimented with multiple jobs. He initially taught English for two years at the University of Wisconsin. In the 1930s, Dobbins worked at several New Deal agencies, including directing the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the National Youth Administration program in the Gadsden, Etowah County, region. During this time, he married Mary Graeme Young. They settled in Gadsden in 1936 and had one child.
In 1939, Dobbins returned to journalism, purchasing the Anniston Times and serving as its publisher and editor. He used this platform to express his liberal views on race, which were in contrast with mainstream views in white supremacist Alabama. Dobbins was adamantly against the poll tax because it stifled the voice of the lower class and used the Times to push his views, which were met with quite a bit of opposition. Dobbins referred to the other local paper, the liberal Anniston Star, to be one of the leading antagonists of his paper. The Star consistently pushed against Dobbins’s attempts to get new voting machines for the city. In 1942, this issue was finally resolved when the City Commission decided to side with Dobbins and rented nine voting machines for the county. This incident earned Dobbins the reputation of being a leading liberal journalist in Alabama.
After leaving the Anniston Times in 1942, Dobbins joined the U.S. Navy and served in the China-Burma-India theater in World War II and attained the rank of lieutenant commander. He returned to Alabama in 1946 and became editor of the Montgomery Advertiser. During his brief tenure, he published a letter from the increasingly vocal racial justice advocate and local librarian Juliette Hampton Morgan, the first under her own byline. In it, she argued against the 1946 Boswell Amendment, a short-lived attempt to impede African Americans from registering to vote. Dobbins also opposed the measure for imposing restrictions he thought arbitrary, whether or not it targeted African Americans.
Dobbins left the Advertiser after one year and began publishing the Montgomery Examiner until it ceased publication around 1955. During these years, he would strongly support Pres. Harry Truman’s reelection, but withdrew his support as public opinion in the South grew against Truman and his push for civil rights, but he did not endorse the Dixiecrats. Later, Dobbins was nominated to the State Board of Education to fill an unexpired term. Questioned about his racial views during his hearing, he would not embrace white supremacy, but he also seemed to avoid denouncing it, such were his moderate views. In 1956, Dobbins divorced Mary and began work for the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., and continued in many leadership capacities for the organization, including executive secretary, until his retirement in 1973. In 1962, the dean of the Auburn University School of Home Economics recommended Dobbins as the next president of the university. He was denied consideration by Alabama’s white supremacist governor George Wallace, who feared that Dobbins would push the school to become more liberal. Although he had been an advocate for reform for the majority of his life, Dobbins spent his later life focused intently on teaching and education reform. Throughout his life, Dobbins held a number of positions in the field of education. He married his second wife, Sylvie Buffet, in 1963; they would divorce in 1986.
Dobbins died on November 6, 1988, in Washington D.C. after suffering a stroke. The Auburn University Libraries Special Collections & Archives has a large repository of his correspondence and other materials.
Crawford, Gregory Eugene. “Charlie Dobbins: Southern Liberal Journalist.” M.A. thesis, Auburn University, 1994.
Dobbins, Charles C. “Alabama Governors and Editors, 1930-1955: A Memoir.” Alabama Review 29 (April 1976): 135-54.
Dobbins, Charles C. “Old Alabama Books: A Collector’s Notes.” Alabama Review 29 (January 1976): 49-71.
Stanton, Mary. Journey Toward Justice: Juliette Hampton Morgan and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006.