Ebon Dooley (1942-2006) was a caring, creative, brilliant, insightful, progressive, proactive, and delightfully charismatic community activist who established the ArtsXchange in 1983. A long-time advocate for the fair distribution of wealth, Ebon brought the spirit of grassroots collectivity to all of his efforts to achieve freedom, dignity, and equality for all people. He understood that these interconnected cornerstones of humanity provide the opportunity for creative expression, community building, and empowerment. The ArtsXchange is proud to present the annual Ebon Dooley Arts & Justice Awards in recognition of individuals and organizations that, like Ebon, work to improve the lives and futures of the communities they serve.
Ebon was born Leo Thomas Hale in the small farming community of Milan, Tennessee, and went to Fisk University in Nashville after the 10th grade on a scholarship. His activism began with his work as managing editor of the Fisk literary magazine and newspaper (where poet Nikki Giovanni also worked as a freshman reporter). He entered Columbia Law School on a full scholarship in 1963. In New York, he saw two very different sides of the larger world: as a law school management trainee at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company and as a member of the Law Students Civil Rights Research Council and volunteer for a community action project in Harlem. He attended the first Black Power Conference in Newark in 1967 and was so impressed by the Chicago delegation that, after graduating from Columbia, he turned down a job on Wall Street to go work in Chicago as a VISTA legal volunteer.
Ebon was active in Chicago’s OBAC (Organization for Black American Culture), and, in 1968, Third World Press published his book Revelation; a poem, which cemented his reputation as a talented poet and dedicated agent for justice. That same year Ebon moved to Atlanta, arriving at a pivotal time in the city’s evolution as a center for social justice movements under the Civil Rights banner. For many years Ebon owned a bookstore, Timbuktu Market of New Africa, which became a hub not only for political activists but also for Atlanta’s burgeoning community of progressive cultural workers.
Ebon’s political and intellectual clarity and his calm and friendly demeanor quickly made him a sought after member of the city’s social change community. He served on the board of the Southern Education Program, worked for Atlanta Legal Aid, and was an early organizer of WRFG community radio. He joined the staff at Atlanta’s historic Neighborhood Arts Center in 1975 as a writer-in-residence and later served for nearly a year as the center’s acting director. As writer-in-residence, Ebon edited the regional magazine Potlikker and helped to organize the Southern Collective of African American Writers with author Toni Cade Bambara. He was involved in the establishment of the Dunbar Center, the Atlanta Center for Black Arts, and, in 1983, drew up the incorporation papers for the Southeast Community Cultural Center, giving birth to The ArtsXchange.
When the ArtsXchange opened, it reshaped the landscape of metropolitan Atlanta’s arts scene. It was the first fully integrated center of its kind—multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary, and inter-generational. Over the years it has maintained its place as a hub of artistic expression for emerging and established artists who push boundaries, blend genres, and foster future generations of creative talent as well as a gathering place for community planning, activism, and events. The ArtsXchange is proud to pay homage to its founder, Ebon Dooley, and to other progressive visionaries, Revolutionary organizers, and cultural activists who carry forward Ebon’s quest for human dignity for everyone everywhere.