Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965

By Davis W. Houck; David E. Dixon | Go to book overview

§35 Dr. Channing H. Tobias

Dr. Channing Heggie Tobias was born in Augusta, Georgia, on February 1, 1882. He received a B.A. and B.D. from Paine College and Drew Theological Seminary, respectively, in addition to an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary. Dr. Channing lived a long and fruitful life including a marriage to Mary Pritchard in 1908. The Tobias’s had two daughters. With Mary’s death in 1949, Tobias remarried in 1951 to Eva Arnold.

Tobias’s life was dedicated to improving the well-being of African Americans and society more generally as evidenced by his work in the YMCA and in various positions of public service. Before doing so, he taught biblical literature at Paine College from 1905 to 1911 and then entered the YMCA in 1911 becoming the student secretary of the International Committee of the YMCA for twelve years. From 1923 until his retirement in 1953, Tobias served in numerous leadership positions within the YMCA and spent much of his time and effort trying to improve the lives and opportunities for African Americans.

On the public service front, Tobias was appointed by President Truman to the Committee on Civil Rights. Tobias became a member of the NAACP’s board of trustees and was eventually elected the chairman of the NAACP in 1953. Eleanor Roosevelt related the following to Ebony magazine about his masterful handling of a situation in 1951 as the alternate U.S. representative to the United Nations. “The Russian delegate said, ‘Mr. Tobias, you should not be here telling us about our treatment of spies. You should be telling us about how your people are treated in the United States.’ He named every state in the Union, telling of its laws. Then he mentioned Georgia. Dr. Tobias in his calm, learned way said: ‘I was born in the state of Georgia which has such bad laws. But today I represent my entire country in the United Nations. I have never said that we do not have states with bad laws, nor that we do not have states with good laws which are not enforced. I do say that we have the opportunity to move forward and so I am proud to represent my country—all 48 states.’ Then Dr. Tobias went back to his original point, but there was dead silence from the Russians. It was a most eloquent handling of what could have been an embarrassing situation. If I had argued the point it would not have had half the effect it had coming from him.”

Tobias died on November 5, 1961 after a lengthy illness. His papers are housed at the Kautz Family YMCA Archives at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

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