“Art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” – Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park
Clark Ashton remembers the first time he saw him. There was a man who wore the three-piece white suit; he would hang out on the street corner, swinging a gold chain. To a young Ashton, this man was fascinating. The man who fearlessly stood out in the small town of Augusta, Georgia. He was unique, inimitable.
For a new generation, Ashton has become a similar figure, “that strange man over on Druid Hills road.” Each year, for the past twenty-four years, he has sat on a throne in his front yard, waving at local school children who are trapped in morning traffic. He is trying to show kids that it is okay to be different, that people can prosper in alternative lifestyles. In his view, independent thought and action are increasingly important in a highly regimented society. Most people react favourably, but a few laugh or yell. It doesn’t bother him. Ashton believes in what he is doing. Continue reading “In the Kingdom of Dreams and Madness: Clark Ashton’s Druid Hill“
“‘What’s your trouble, honey?’ Aunt Tobie would ask.
‘I just don’t know whether he loves me or not,’ the young girl would say.
‘And you think Aunt Tobie can tell you?’
‘Lawd, chile, if you can’t tell about that better than I can, you better give him up. Aunt Tobie ain’t got that personal contact.’ And the old Negro woman would laugh.”
(Paul Hemphill article, “Aunt Tobie: ’65”)
Tobie Grant: Philanthropist, Sense-giver, and Businesswoman
“Fortune teller” often conjures images of
crystal balls, burning incense, and floating tables. But, for Tobie Grant,
those things were nothing but superstitious props. Described as a quick-witted
woman with an iconic personality, Tobie Kendall Grant served as a beacon of the
Scottsdale community and became renowned for her ability to give uncannily
accurate advice and predicting the future.
Born in 1887 to Nancy Kendall, Grant was the 13th child out of 15
children and the 5th daughter of the family. Her abilities started manifesting
when she was young with Grant claiming that she had been predicting since she
was “knee high to a duck”. Her powers were unsurprising considering Grant came
from a famous line of future predicting women.
Her mother and grandmother were famous for
possessing the power to predict the future and solve mysteries that no one else
could. Nancy Kendall, known as Aunt Nancy was a force in her own right with a
reputation as a powerful seeress. It is said that in 1900, Nancy Kendall even predicted
the advent of World War I. Kendall was described as a devout woman of Baptist
faith who prayed before trying to see a vision, a tradition that Grant carried
on in her own work. Grant relied on prayer to prompt her own visions and her
own intelligence when giving advice.
With her divine abilities and ingenuity,
Grant was not your stereotypical seer. In life, she preferred to be called a
“sense-giver”. Asked about where such as title came from, with the sharp wit
she was known for, Grant stated that she just gave sensible advice and that she
simply “…gives people sense”. The advice was always uncannily accurate and
drew the attention of citizens from all over DeKalb County and beyond. From
politicians and bankers to policemen and high society ladies, Tobie Grant
became the woman to see for any problem you had.
She advised businessmen who would not dare
invest their money into anything unless she approved it. Like her mother, Grant
helped police in their search for missing persons, thieves, and murders. There
are reports of her finding a woman’s missing husband, a soldier that had been
missing in action, and stolen money. Grant even mediated marriages and love
disputes, warning one young woman about the man she wanted to marry whom
already had a wife and 2 children. Unfortunately, seeing into the future can be
Tobie married Julius Grant and together they had one son and adopted two other sons, two of whom she outlived. Grant foretold of her own son’s death before he died in a trolley accident, and her other son died in war. Nonetheless, she continued to use her second sight to help others. With a client base composed mostly of white citizens, Grant knew how to operate within a segregated society. However, Tobie Grant was not a woman to back down or be held back. During her lifetime, Grant actively worked to promote better understanding between the races and was a member of an “interracial committee”. Her mission, however, did not include the Ku Klux Klan. When the Klan was particularly active in DeKalb County she once told a newsman that if any Klan members were to come around there, she would place a powerful hex on them.
The Klan never did bother Miss Tobie Grant.
While researching Tobie Grant, I came across an article written by Medora Field Perkerson describing a typical workday for Miss Grant that was tucked into her subject file. It seems that when Miss Grant decided she was done for the day, she was known for getting into her Ford and driving away before anyone knew she was gone. Perkerson describes a packed front porch with clients waiting like patients at a doctor’s office outside of Grant’s home. At one point in the day, Grant stuck her head out of her upstairs window and declared that “Tobie isn’t able to see anybody else today. Everybody has been to the fair but Tobie and now Tobie is going”. When a matron whispered to her friend inquiring about whether that was the Tobie Grant, Grant stated that it was indeed her and promptly slammed the window shut.
Well-liked and respected for her kindness
in the community, Grant had a reputation for being generous and eager to help
others whether through her abilities or material means. Besides being a
spiritual and financial advisor, Grant was also a businesswoman who owned
several plots of real estate and operated two insurance companies. She owned a
Washington Park Cemetery and large tracts of land adjacent to her home some of
which she donated to the county to be used as a park for the black children of
Scottsdale. Grant also donated some of her prominent land holdings to the
county to be used as a park which bears her name.
On March 16, 1968, Tobie Grant was laid to
rest in Washington Park Cemetery. But even in death, her legacy lives on in
DeKalb County. A visitor to Scottsdale will discover a local library, a park, a
recreation center and a housing development all named in her honor.
Quite recently, a longstanding mystery of the archives was solved through a happy bit of circumstance. A missing dress lost somewhere in the collections of the DeKalb History Center, was unearthed within this last month. ‘Why all the fuss about a dress?’ you might be thinking. Well, considering who wore the dress, and who she married while wearing it, we think you will be able to understand our excitement.
“My father used to say that stories are part of the most precious heritage of mankind.” ― Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams
I love perusing through old scrapbooks. An unorthodox hobby, I know, but I find them utterly fascinating. This strange amusement supports commonly held assumptions: that historians and archivists are fundamentally nosy, digging through people’s mail and scrutinizing their written records. Personally, it as an extension of natural curiosity. Most of us are captivated by the past. If we know where we come from, we can forecast where we are headed.Continue reading ““A Horrible Demoness:” DeKalb History Center’s Historic Scrapbook Collection”
There seems to be a great debate over the title of the first African-American church in DeKalb County. According to some historians, the title goes to Antioch A.M.E. Church founded in 1868 by former slaves. However, others state that the title goes to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church founded in 1849 by a white plantation owner. So what constitutes a black church and which one was the first in DeKalb County? The definition of a black church seems to have two interpretations: a church that caters to a predominately-black congregation or a church founded by African-Americans themselves. Antioch technically stands as the oldest black church started by African-Americans in the county, but Mount Pleasant is technically the first church in DeKalb County that served an all-black congregation. Either way, both churches were highly valued and important in the black communities they served.