As most Chronicle readers know, Augusta-born international opera star Jessye Norman recently received the NAACP’s highest honor, the Spingarn Award, joining such noted recipients as W.E.B. DuBois, Jackie Robinson, Langston Hughes, Marian Anderson, Thurgood Marshall, Duke Ellington, Rosa Parks, Paul Robeson, Henry Aaron and Oprah Winfrey.
What many readers may not know is that there have been two other Augusta-born-and-bred Spingarn Award winners of whom we should be equally proud: John Hope and Channing H. Channing Tobias.
Both attended Paine College, although Hope transferred to Brown University. A leading educator and civil rights figure, he most notably became the first black president of Morehouse College – the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater – and in 1929 became the first black president of Atlanta University.
Dr. Tobias was a 1902 graduate of Paine College and a Christian Methodist Episcopal minister. After study at Drew University and the University of Pennsylvania, he became dean of the Paine College School of Divinity. He served as student international secretary of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and as senior secretary in the YMCA Department of Interracial Services for 23 years.
A delegate and speaker at the 1926 World Conference in Finland, he was an adviser to U.S. presidents Hoover, Roosevelt and Truman, and was an alternate delegate to the United Nations when it met in Paris in 1951. He joined the NAACP’s board of directors in 1951, and served as chairman from 1953 to 1959 – a period covering the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the murder of Emmett Till and Rosa Parks’ arrest in the Montgomery bus boycott.
(The writer is Paine College’s historian.)