by Sylvia Marshall, volunteer
“‘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 painful.
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.