LANDS: Let’s talk about your relationship to Emmaus House.
FOSTER: My name is Tony Foster. I am a volunteer for the Muriel Lokey Center. I’ve been around here 12 years volunteering. I also do Alcohol Anonymous here. I am the chairperson here for the AA meetings, and I also go out in the field and talk to a lot of old people about the Emmaus House. I help feed people in the neighborhood and check on people to see if people need anything from Emmaus House.
I was born and raised here in Peoplestown. I started coming to Emmaus House when I was 12 years old. Back then there was a lot of poverty. It was during the 1960s and 1970s. I have been to Washington DC with Emmaus House doing the March and stuff. I have been to Florida with Emmaus House. I also have been to several states with Emmaus House.
I decided to come to Emmaus House when I got a little older. I got disabled and I wanted to work, and I decided to find something else to do with my time. I started volunteering here, and Emmaus House really helped me out. Before I came here, I was a recovering alcoholic and didn’t have nothing else to do but drink. So I went into rehab and wanted to come do something for Emmaus House–give them something back. So I came back to Emmaus House 12 years ago, and I’ve been here ever since volunteering–which I enjoy volunteering. I also used to come around here on Saturday to help with arts and crafts. I used to do the after-school program with the children. I volunteered with numerous things.
Right now I’m just dealing with the Muriel Lokey Center because it is a place for me to be. My family and a lot of families around here in Peoplestown have profited a lot from Emmaus House. Emmaus House has helped a lot of people during the poverty days and up to now. We feed a lot of families. We feed on the last Thursday of the month. We give out food referrals every day. We help people with I.D.’s who are staying in this area. If we have the money sometimes, we help people pay their rent, but right now we don’t have the funds. We do various things for the neighborhood.
I just enjoy being here at the Lokey Center, giving back to Emmaus House, where they have helped me a lot. I mean, I would have nowhere to turn sometimes but to Emmaus House. I was homeless at one time, and Emmaus House helped me get back on my feet. Now I’m not homeless–I have my own apartment. I’ve been clean 12 years from alcohol, and it’s just a wonderful place to be, you know. I’ve seen people come and go.
Back when I started, there was Rev. Father Austin Ford. He helped my family a lot. He was a friend of my mother’s. He used to come and get bushes out of the yard. He kind of helped me out a lot and told me, you know, I needed to get my life straightened out and come around here and start volunteering. So, I started coming here to the AA meetings. I’ve been here ever since like I said.
LANDS: Tell me about the, you mentioned doing the marches and traveling for Emmaus. Tell me about the old poverty rights office that you remember.
FOSTER: Well, what I can remember of the old poverty rights office–we went to Washington DC and marched for welfare rights with Ms. Ethel Mae Matthews. She’s dead—passed on now. She used to lead it. I was a little boy but I remember going to Washington DC and we were holding up signs marching for poor peoples’ rights, which back then was welfare. It was the 60s and 70s, and I remember going there in Washington DC, and we marched on Washington DC for the rights and stuff.
LANDS: Who was the woman you mentioned, Ethel?
FOSTER: Ethel Mae Matthews. She was one of the Senior Strollers here. She’s been dead about two or three years now. She really helped Emmaus House a lot too. My history of a lot of people here (they also have also passed on–my brother, neighbors and stuff), they used to go get the children and all of us and just take us up to Washington to march. I mean, you know, I can’t remember too much about a lot of things.
LANDS: So your mom went to Washington to march and she took you?
FOSTER: Yes, yes. She took us, me and my brother. We went up to see them march at the capital for welfare rights back then.
LANDS: And there were a bunch of people from the poverty rights office from Emmaus that went?
LANDS: And you took cars up there?
FOSTER: No, on a plane. Emmaus House furnished a plane.
LANDS: And why did you go to Florida?
FOSTER: We just went on like a little vacation thing. You know, just to take a trip for poor people. Our family couldn’t really afford to send us to somewhere like Florida, and we just gathered the neighborhood people and we went to Florida. Austin sent us to [pauses to remember] Melbourne Beach, Florida. And one time we went to St. Augustine. It was just something to get us out of the neighborhood to keep us out of trouble. Emmaus House kept us out of trouble, a lot of trouble. Back then we didn’t have too many places to go.
LANDS: What did you do as kids back then at Emmaus House? Did they have the arts and crafts then?
FOSTER: Well, they had little stuff like that, arts and crafts. They took us on field trips, a lot of field trips. They had a bus. They had a bus and used to take us on field trips and stuff—movies, a lot of places we couldn’t go, you know. They took us to various places around the city that we could never go.
LANDS: So at what point — you’re a child then — when did you stop coming to Emmaus House?
FOSTER: I stopped coming when I got probably around 16 or 17.
LANDS: So you started coming back about 12 years ago?
FOSTER: Yes, ma’am.
LANDS: So what is different? How is Emmaus House different from your childhood to now?
FOSTER: How is it different?
LANDS: Or do you think it is the same?
FOSTER: I think it is a lot different. I think now they help more people than they did back then. They help a lot of people now. They have a lot of things for children. They do a lot of things for children, you know, they send them to camp in the summertime and stuff like that. We didn’t have that. They can go to Camp Mikell and the mountains when they are out of school. We didn’t have all of that. They have a lot of programs for kids now. They really help more families too. They help a lot more families now than they did then. You know what I’m saying? For the last 12 years, I just seen Emmaus House turn around. It’s more modern now. You know what I’m saying? It was kind of old fashioned is what I’m trying to say. Now its back up to 2008, 2009 standards. It’s established.
LANDS: So when your mom was coming here in the 1960s and 1970s, she was coming as a volunteer?
FOSTER: She was a volunteer. Father Austin Ford used to be here years ago — he used to come and get bushes out of yard, plant some flowers. She used to come around here and volunteer for awhile. Because — we had stuff, we had food — we didn’t get nothing like that from Emmaus House. We just went on the trips because my father, he worked, and my mother, she retired from Georgia Tech. She broke her leg so she never did go back to work. So that gave her time to come around here. She and Father Ford used to be good friends. He always came around the house and checked on them, and checked on us to make sure we were all right. So I was kind of like a troubled child. I kind of stayed in a lot of stuff, so he was kind of concerned about me going the right way when I was young.
LANDS: So 12 years ago you come back. You mentioned how Emmaus House was much more modern than it was 12 years ago, so tell me more about that. What was it like when you first came back 12 years ago?
FOSTER: Well, when I came back, they had changed. They didn’t have the food referral program and things like that. We didn’t have that. You had to go to the welfare office somewhere, go to one of those agencies they had to get peanut butter and get all that stuff like that. Now we have referrals we can write and a lot more different agencies we can call. We have more of everything now. We got people who we can call to try to help people get money for their rent, light bill, gas bill. We got a lot more places we can send people to get food, and we got the trip program where we help children get clothes, uniforms for them to go to school. There’s just a lot more things going on here now than there was back then. We have our own food pantry now. We help people on every Friday with the food pantry with food. We still have AA meetings. We do social security to help people who are disabled. We have a lady who does social security work here, helps people who are disabled to get social security. Which we had then–Ms. Dee [Weems] was doing it. She was doing that. Ms. Dee would and another lady were doing it. We have two people now doing social security. Ms. Dee has retired. She would be the person you would want to talk to one day too. She would have a lot of history too about this place–Dee Weems.
LANDS: Tell me about the other, the outreach you were talking about that you go out and check on people.
FOSTER: About me? I just go around the neighborhood. I know a lot of elderly people, a lot of them died out. They need food and different things, the grass cut or whatever. I would just go check on them to make sure they are all right. Do they need food? Or do they something done around their house? You know, stuff like that. Do they need me to go to the store or whatever, or go get the mail or whatever? I do that kind of thing.
LANDS: Are there other guys like you doing that?
FOSTER: No, not really. There’s another guy, Leon, he goes around sometimes taking food and stuff. He’s a senior here. He goes out and helps people too, you know, he does the same. So I basically do that sometimes go around and try to check on them. A lot of the people I used to check on have passed on, like three or four of them. I have two people now that I check on, elderly people in this neighborhood that I check on. So the rest of them passed on.
LANDS: So most of the people that you checked on are homebound people. They’re not people who are able to get out and come down to Emmaus House?
FOSTER: No more. They used to be seniors here. Now they’ve gotten so old they can’t come. You know they’ve gotten old, they’ve got Alzheimer’s, or whatever, or they’re just not able to get out anymore. So that’s basically what I do.
LANDS: Tell me about the changes you’ve seen in Peoplestown since you were a kid.
FOSTER: Well, when we were raised in Peoplestown, Peoplestown basically was good place to stay. But the last few years we have been battling drugs in Peoplestown. What I’m battling now is a guy next door to my mother selling drugs. They have been busted two or three times and keep coming back, which is not good for my mother, because my mother’s window is on the side of the drug house. She thought a bullet might go through the window. There used to be a lot of liquor houses through here and now all those people died out. Now we fight drugs over here. Peoplestown has a lot of drugs. They have a lot of prostitution. They are trying to clean that up too. They have slowed the prostitution down but the drugs just seem like they keep going. They can’t cut it. So far as Peoplestown, Peoplestown is a good place to live, but a lot of people are just moving out because of the drugs. A lot of people bought these new houses around here paying so much money for these new houses, and then the next thing in six or seven months, they’re gone. They are breaking into these houses while people go to work. We would have a policeman stay down on the MARTA, they broke into his house–an Atlanta policeman. I’m serious, twice! He is still staying in the neighborhood. That goes to show that people around here that are on drugs, they don’t care. For Peoplestown, there is a lot of burglary going on and car stealing. We find a lot of stolen cars around in this neighborhood all the time. Every morning, they find two or three stolen cars. But basically, Peoplestown is a nice place if they would kind of clean the drugs up and the prostitution.
We have people come [to Lokey Center] that have slept out, you know. They come here in the morning and are on drugs, and we give them sandwiches and stuff. We let them sit in for awhile, but we have to run them out because they’ll go to sleep, you know. We try to help people as much as we can here but some people don’t want no help. I try to get them to come to my meetings. You know, you can’t make anybody do anything. When they get ready, they’ll come. Some I have helped and some I haven’t. I helped save two or three people by taking them to my house and letting them spend the nightm making sure that they get to the residential rehab program the next morning. I kind of know them; I kind of trust them. I have took them home and let them sleep on the sofa, and got up and made sure they got to rehab the next morning.
LANDS: Which rehab program do you send people to?
FOSTER: We have St. Jude’s on Renaissance. We have Newport off of Boulevard by Atlanta Medical. And I do a lot of Fulton County. Fulton County is kind of a strict thing. But for women, we try to send them to St. Jude’s because it’s a good program. I also stayed at St. Jude’s for 24 months so it’s a good program. I knew it. My counselor is dead now. I tried helping him. I sent him to Grady to 13-B. If they need an emergency psychological or if they’re on drugs and their medical capacity is kind of bad, we send them to 13-B so they can go directly to get stabilized at Grady. Then we send them to Grady and they send themselves to rehab.
LANDS: When you are at the AA meetings you hold here, do you guys have the capacity to handle the drug-related stuff? Is it a Narcotics Anonymous as well?
FOSTER: We do both. I do AA and then I got a guy who comes in that does NA, then I do NA, and then he will do a multiple recovery alcohol addicts.
LANDS: And how often do you guys meet here?
FOSTER: We do like Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00 to 1:00. We do one Thursday night so we don’t have people here sometimes. We take them out to another meeting to get the feel of other people, because they get uncomfortable about seeing things, people, so we just take them to another meeting where they can see other people’s problems. That makes them loosen up so they can share and they start sharing little things. A lot of people are scared to share their problems until they hear another person saying what they are going through and then they’ll loosen up. A lot of people coming in here, they really don’t want to talk about their problems until they see they another woman or man just talking. You have to take them to different places to let them loosen up a little bit.
LANDS: How many other agencies or kinds of community support centers do you have in the neighborhood like Emmaus?
FOSTER: Well, we have, well not close by, we got Central Presbyterian downtown. We have Crossroads down on Juniper Street. We have got Odyssey III on Decatur Street. We’ve got quite a few.
LANDS: So there is a big network that you can call on in the area?
FOSTER: Yes, there is. No problem. There’s a lot of networks.
LANDS: So 12 years ago when Emmaus was a little more challenged and underdeveloped, was that network there, do you think?
FOSTER: We had people staying here that was supposed to be clean that wasn’t clean so now we try to screen them. You know what I’m saying? We had people who used to be working for Emmaus House who stayed in the big house over there that did meetings, but they were unclean. But now you know it’s about being serious about it. If you’re clean, you’re clean–if you’re not, you’re not. We kind of know who is clean and who ain’t clean. Back then, when we used to have meetings up here over in the old house, those guys would come in drunk. I was drinking myself so… Now we’re more serious about it. If you drink, you can’t come to the meetings. If you’re clean, you’ve already told us anyway. Over here we already know it. We make sure we’ve made it clear if somebody is drinking, we don’t want them here in the meetings. You know what I’m saying? We don’t turn them away but come back when you’re not drinking because it’s not good for me and nobody else. Now I’ve already seen about mine. I liked to about died from alcohol so I’m really serious about my recovery, I tell you. Anybody around here can tell you. I don’t play about my recovery so I’m really serious about my recovery.
LANDS: A few minutes ago, you referred to there perhaps being more poverty in Peoplestown before. Do you think there’s less poverty in the area now than there was then?
FOSTER: It’s rare I guess. We had a lot of poor people back in Peoplestown that would be in apartments. We had like shot-gun houses, and we just had a lot of poor people around here. A lot of poverty, you know, people have gone home and stuff. Like I said, we did have one place we could go, and people would go and get peanut butter and cheese and stuff — like welfare people. Back then, you just had one place you could go to get food. I mean there were no food stamps and all that back then like there is now so things have changed a lot here and other places.
LANDS: Do you think that the housing is better now?
FOSTER: Housing is much better, because you see if got a person with low income, they can get a nice house deal. You know what I’m saying? If you’re not getting that much money, you can get still get Section 8. They give people houses, paying their rent. They’ve got a lot of things going on that weren’t going on then. Back then you had to try to pay your rent or you get put out in the cold, but now you got more agencies to help you. You know, help you go through Section 8 and HUD and all this kind of stuff.
LANDS: This is off of the subject, but when you were growing up, do you remember the stadiums being built and the controversies around that? Were you around in the neighborhood when all that was going on?
FOSTER: Yes, that’s right.
LANDS: Can you talk about that? What do you remember?
FOSTER: About the stadium? I remember when they built the stadium, there used to be a lot of houses down in that area. They basically took the houses from the poor people. They basically took them and gave them a little or nothing. That’s where a lot of houses were where the old stadium used to be. We used to have a theatre down there called the Empire. It was the only theatre we had down through there on a little shopping plaza. The Empire theatre was where everybody went on the weekends to see a movie. They took all of that from us so they left us with no where to go. We had to go downtown to see a movie which would cost more money. We had a dollar movie back then called the Carmichael Theatre down on Peachtree and then we had to go downtown to see a movie. Basically, I seen them build the stadium. I seen when they blowed it down. I seen them build it, you know. I seen them when they built the juvenile justice facility. I remember seeing that. Yes, I bet I’ve seen all that. Like I said, it just took a lot of houses from people.
LANDS: Did anybody protest the loss of housing, or try to fight the stadium building on?
FOSTER: They did. Yes, Ms. [Ethel Mae] Mathews tried. They tried all of that, but it went on anyway. We didn’t have too much rights back in the late 1960s. It went on. They built it anyway. They were really marching because they had took all these peoples’ houses. Like they did when they built Turner Field, they basically took all those people’s houses in Summerhill for a little of nothing. Ran them out and gave them a little money. Some of them didn’t get nothing and built Turner Field. I seen them do that. Took all the big lots and stuff and built a lot of new houses back through there. They built some condos back there where there was nothing but a row of houses where poor people stayed. Poor people basically stayed all down around Turner Field which we call Summerhill in that area.
LANDS: Do you know where they went?
FOSTER: I really don’t. Some of them just relocated. Some of them moved, where I don’t know. There were a lot of elderly people back then so lot of them just passed on and their family just went their way. They basically took people’s houses. I’m just being honest with you.
LANDS: Well, I appreciate your time this morning.
Interview with: Charles “Tony” Foster
Interviewed by: LeeAnn Lands
Location: Muriel Lokey Center at Emmaus House
Date: 11 February 2009
Transcribed by: N. Hill