Dr. June Dobbs Butts with the sculpture of her father, John Wesley Dobbs, on Auburn Avenue.
Dr. June Dobbs Butts with the sculpture of her father, John Wesley Dobbs, on Auburn Avenue. (Photo by Marsha Needham)

By Franklin Abbott

Dr. June Dobbs Butts –  a retired family counselor, renowned sex therapist and witness to history –  is the youngest daughter of late Atlanta civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs. At age 88, she began participating in an oral history project at Georgia State University’s Women and Gender Collection archive, which is hosting an afternoon reading with Butts on Sunday, July 17, at 2 p.m. the Decatur Library, 215 Sycamore St. Butts will read from her poetry and essays as well  as take questions from the audience. Parental discretion is advised since Butts will include human sexuality among the topics she presents.

One of Butts earliest memories is of her fourth birthday party in 1932. Her father had just been elected Grand Master of the Georgia Prince Hall Masons, the African-American branch of the society in the segregated South, and was attending a convocation at the Grand Lodge in Americus. Butts’ mother planned a birthday party for June and for all the children living at the children’s home that was supported by the Masons. She remembers that everyone got a simple present, that there was cake and games. She says some of the children were very surprised by the birthday party. It may have been the first they had ever been to.

John Wesley Dobbs would remain as Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons for the next 30 years. He would also become one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement of the early 20th century and his position as grand master put him in the middle of a powerful network of African-American men who were professionals and tradesmen.

Butts was the youngest of Dobbs’ six daughters. His eldest daughter was the mother of Atlanta’s first African- American mayor, Maynard Jackson. His fifth daughter was the opera singer Matiwilda Dobbs, the first African American to sing at La Scala. All six daughters attended Spelman college and, for a time, held the Guiness Book of World Records title for the most siblings to attend the same college.

Dr. June Dobbs Butts

The Dobbs family lived on the opposite corner from the King family. Butts and her sisters played with the King children and she and Martin Luther King, Jr. were close friends through their high school and college years. She graduated from Spelman the same year he (she calls him ML) graduated from Morehouse. The summer before they went off to their respective colleges, they worked as a research team for Professor Ira D. A. Reed who was doing a field study of African-American Baptist preachers in the South. Butts said she filed out the questionnaires and that ML drove. Before he would meet and marry Coretta Scott, Butts tried to set ML up with her best friend, but there was no chemistry. She said ML once told her he’d like to find a woman like Butts to marry him. “I’m too tall,” she teased him and they both laughed. Butts was a good foot taller than King.

Butts went on to attend Columbia University where she received her Doctor of Education and became an expert in human sexuality, Her article “Sex Education: Who Needs It?” was published by Ebony Magazine in 1977 and reprinted as a pamphlet by Planned Parenthood. It came to the attention of sex researchers Masters and Johnson, who invited Butts to join their research team in St. Louis. She was the first African-American sex therapist trained by them. Butts went on to teach at Fisk University, Howard University and Meharry Medical Collage, where she continued doing research. She later became a visiting scientist at the CDC in Atlanta.

Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and consultant, writer and community organizer. 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

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