LEEANN LANDS: We’re recording, so you can introduce yourself and tell me your history with Emmaus House.
DAVID MORATH: Okay. My name is David Morath and I live in Wrightsville, Pennsylvania where I’ve been for the last 30 years. I worked at Emmaus House from 1970 to 1972. I had graduated from the University of Maryland in 1970 and with the intention of teaching school, and at that particular time, draft laws changed and teachers were no longer exempt, and the lottery had come in. And so I petitioned as a conscientious objector and won that status. But then, since I was draftable, I had to find work that would meet the conscientious objector guidelines. The American Friends Service Committee provided me with a very lengthy list of Selective Service approved sites. And I went through the list and was looking at places that looked like they might be interesting. I probably wrote about 30 letters to different places, and Emmaus House was one of them. In the mail a few weeks later came a postcard from Austin Ford and all it said was, “I think you might be interested in our situation and I’d be willing to fly you down here to have a look. Are you interested?” And I was. So in September of 1970, I flew down and had a look at Emmaus House, and it was a fit. So, we made arrangements that I would work there for two years as a staff member. I moved down to Atlanta in September, and I had a bit of a tour. But things were kind of unstructured, and it was kind of tough to know exactly what my role was going to be.
At that particular time, in addition to Austin Ford and Mimi Bodell, there were only two other live-in staff members. It was Gene Ferguson and me. Gene did not have a driver’s license so a lot of tasks that involved driving fell to me. The job was very much 24/7. The actual hours of the Emmaus House were from about 8 in the morning until 10 at night, and that was going full bore, seven days a week. Sometimes we had little breaks and some of the volunteers from the suburbs would say, “hey, why don’t we go to dinner?” or “come out and stay at my house tonight,” or that kind of stuff. So, that provided a little bit of rest.
I was very much a jack-of-all-trades. The Poverty Rights Office was just getting under way with Muriel Lokey at that time. But a lot of the kind of work that they did, we did on a walk-in basis: somebody’s electricity was cut off, somebody needed to apply for welfare or get Social Security benefits, somebody was having a housing issue, all sorts of things like that, and we’d just go out and do. We had different strengths. Mine was education. Really, it didn’t develop right away the first year I was there; so, a lot of what I did was just general duty stuff. I also worked with teenagers. I had a group that met once a week with teenagers who were between the ages of about 11 and 14. Somebody else had the older ones. And Mimi did stuff with the younger children, which we all pitched in and helped with.
As I was there over a period of time, there was more interest in the schools. First of all, the desegregation order for Atlanta at that time held that any student who was in a racial majority in the school they attended could transfer to a school where they would be in a minority. That permitted black students to move to predominantly white schools. The hitch was how to get them there. There was a clause in the order that provided, say, if a group of 20 or 30 kids got together from the same neighborhood, the city would provide transportation. So we went out into the neighborhood around Emmaus House as well as some of the housing projects (Leila Valley and Thomasville, some of those places) and we organized groups of kids. We had the paperwork to request the transfer, and we’d go talk to parents and tell them what the options were. And we, with the help of some of our volunteers and Austin, had picked out certain schools that we were interested in. They tended to be in affluent areas and they tended to be under[utilized], so there was ample space in the schools. So, we collected signatures and one fine day I went out to the district office in the Buckhead area with 30 transfers in hand and gave them to the social worker and said, “When do we start?” They were a little surprised. No one had organized a group [before]. We probably eventually got to the point where we had four or five busloads going out to the north side. We went to E Rivers, we went to Morris Brandon, Birney Elementary School, Sara Smith, we had kids going to all those places. Two of the principals were very supportive and one was quite difficult. The selection of schools created a stir, since St. Philip’s Cathedral sits in the middle of this wealthy area.
After we started that, they were looking at how to change the court order, how it might be modified. And of course, Charlotte-Mecklenburg had a [metropolitan] school district, and we had looked and thought probably more could be done if we looked at Atlanta on a metropolitan basis [rather] than just the city of Atlanta. There were areas on the edge of the city of Atlanta where there were more opportunities for whites and blacks to mix. So, the NAACP, which had the original [school desegregation] court case was not interested in pursuing this because the Atlanta school board had just turned majority black. So the city school district was in black control and we were starting to get into the black power verses integration [debate]. [Instead of pursuing the NAACP as a partner,] we picked up with ACLU. Margie Pitts Hames was the attorney, and we signed up plaintiffs to sue for [desegregating as a] metropolitan school district. One of the things we had to do was that we had to map all the metro area. And it wasn’t as big as the metro area of Atlanta is now, but it included Cobb County, Dekalb County, City of Decatur, and Clayton, and I’m not sure what else. That might have been it. I don’t know, can you think of any other counties that surround Atlanta like that? Cherokee wasn’t in it.
DM: I’m not sure. But anyhow, what we had to do then, we had to map all of the schools in these areas, because you didn’t have those nice book maps like they do now. So we sat down with folding maps of these counties on Frances Pauley’s dinner table and went through [noting] how many black kids and how many white kids [were] in each school, and coded the map. We mapped the entire metro area. It was funny because just recently I came across all that work and one of my coworkers, Tom Erdmanczyk—I don’t know if you’ve talked to him—Tom was a special education director in Clayton County for many years. He laughed at the statistics. He said, “Oh my gosh, the demographics for the city of Atlanta have changed drastically since 1972 when we were doing all this kind of work.”
DM: You’re laughing. Yeah, he worked in Clayton County, which was all really white back in those days, and he said it’s almost entirely black now.
So, anyhow we had to go find plaintiffs for the lawsuit. And I worked with Margie Pitts Hames and she tutored me in what we had to do. She said you have to go get a notary public license so you can witness the signatures. So I trucked down to the courthouse to do this and they gave me the paper, and I needed someone to vouch for my good character. Since I was on foot or by bus back in those days I was not real keen on going all the way back to Emmaus House to get somebody to sign for me, I hatched [this] bright idea. I was a deputy voter registrar. So I went next door to the voter registration office with my card in hand and asked if somebody could vouch for my good character. And lo and behold the person who did it was Calvin Craig who had at one time been Grand Dragon of the Georgia Klan. And I was thinking, “I’m trying to sue for school desegregation!” It was one of those loony tune things that happened back in those days. Strange bedfellows sometimes. But anyhow, that was one of the things we did. That took up a lot of time the longer I worked there.
We did summer programs for kids. We generally had, I’d say 150 kids that went everyday to, originally, Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Druid Hills, and then to Pryor Street School. We did academic and recreational stuff with the kids, and then took them swimming in the afternoon. We had a lot of volunteers from the north then. We got interns from Union College who would come down. I’m not sure what the arrangement was but there was somebody at Union College that knew Austin, and they got the students to come down and probably funded them. So, every night at dinner at Emmaus House with just staff we might have 20 people sitting around the table who were all living and working on site.
Surplus food was a big thing and they had a large number of suburban ladies in tennis shoes who used to come in and drive surplus food. That was Muriel Lokey’s big project before Poverty Rights. It was funny because when we were at the 40th reunion, we noted that that couldn’t be done today because you couldn’t find that many people who weren’t working to come volunteer, to that extent, I mean. Some of these ladies put in lots and lots of hours. The idea was [that] they’d go out, they’d form a relationship with the family that they were picking up surplus food for, and then they could bring other concerns to us that the people had. The other thing was, we didn’t have food stamps back in those days, so there was only one distribution center that I knew of in the entire city of Atlanta, and it was not on a bus line (made a lot of sense for poor people!). But the ladies driving the surplus food could get the food out to the people. We didn’t have a food pantry of any sort. We had a shed out behind Emmaus House, and if somebody had died, moved, or something after we picked up their surplus food for them, and we couldn’t get to them, it would go in the shed and then become food for whoever knocked on the door and had a need.
We did a lot of work with the Welfare Rights Organization. At one point there was a store in the building next door to the main house. That worked for a while, but then it turned out that most of our people in the neighborhood were buying on credit at the local grocery store, and so we didn’t compete very well with that. That was one of those ideas that came and went. A lot of the welfare rights work also kind of [became] a senior citizen thing because many of the ladies tended to be older. In those days Social Security was just for retired people, it didn’t cover blind and disabled like it does now. So they were welfare clients, and had to go work with the welfare department. And at the beginning of Poverty Rights then, we were able to do stuff like really investigate what the welfare code was. It got kind of interesting because we’d have our volunteers from the north side who’d come down—and these ladies were bright, sharp people— and they got so they knew the welfare code better than some of the case workers did. By some kind of surreptitious means, I think Austin Ford got a hold of one of the welfare manuals that had all of the regulations and stuff. God only knows how! These ladies poured over it and studied it, and then they’d go in some hearing with the clients and to beat [the welfare administrators] at their own game. Part of the strategy was let them sink under their own weight.
As I said [there were] a lot of transportation issues. People didn’t have ways to get to places like the Grady Hospital emergency room, which was not one of my favorite places to go. To this day, I hate going to any emergency room on a Friday or Saturday night, based on my experiences at Grady back in those days. I remember I had one client who was blind and epileptic, and I used to have to get his medicine for him. The first time I went, I bet I stood in line for four hours, and I thought “this is ridiculous.” So then I talked to somebody. Since I was a nice white person instead of a client, per se, I found out that if you went in the evening after the main pharmacy was closed, you could go to the emergency pharmacy, and it all happened in about ten minutes. But the clients standing in line didn’t know how to work that system. You really needed to be sharp to figure out how to work the system. I mean occasionally we’d get clients and we kind of celebrated that they had enough spunk and drive and knowledge and whatever to kind of beat them at their own game, because it was tough. And there were ways around some of this stuff, but generally nothing was free for a client. They paid for it in dignity I think.
We did a lot of very political stuff. I spent a fair amount of time on picket lines for various and sundry causes over time. I know we were working with [Reverend Joseph] Joe Boone and the Atlanta Summit [Leadership Conference], and I think it was the end of my first year, maybe the end of my second year, we were picketing out at Holy Family Hospital. We managed to get arrested for blocking traffic, which we really hadn’t done. So we got carted off in the paddy wagon and that noon they let us go, really on the recognizance of some city council member who thought it was terrible. We all went to our hearing the next day and got off because Margie Pitts Hames had defended us You know they said trucks were turning around? She said “aren’t truck drivers teamsters?” And the answer was yes. Well, teamsters generally observe picket lines and don’t cross them. Oh, okay, well that was the end of that.
LL: Do you remember why you were picketing?
DM: Yes. Some of the nursing and housekeeping staff were looking for better wages. Holy Family had been a hospital that had served the black middle-class out in the West End. I think Martin Luther King’s children were probably born out there. But the hospital had changed hands from the Medical Mission Sisters to a private corporation, and these nurses just weren’t having any luck with trying to do anything. It was this marvelous thing in the black community, but it was really not treating its employees very well. There were just a few of us that particular day, but later one of the black hospital administrators came out and shot somebody on the picket line and then had to flee the state as a fugitive. He left. And this is the administrator of the hospital for crying out loud. Well, then, boy, everybody in Atlanta was on that picket line and things got cleaned up pretty quick.
LL: He shot somebody who was picketing?
DM: He shot somebody who was picketing. It was just not a day I was out there. But he apparently just kind of blew his stack.
LL: Now, I’m aware that Emmaus House and Poverty Rights, that staff members picketed regularly on behalf of welfare rights and things directly related to services rendered at Emmaus House and the PRO. But the story you’re telling me here indicates that you all are also working with other organizations that you’re sympathizing with. Is there an ongoing relationship with the labor movement?
DM: Well, Austin and Joe [Boone] were very close, and if Joe Boone was working on a cause and needed some people, Austin would say, “Well, let’s see who I can get.” Some of the welfare rights ladies would crossover, some of the staff members would crossover. I think Gene Ferguson and Mabeth Settlage, who were on the staff at Emmaus House, eventually left Emmaus House and went to work for Joe Boone and the Atlanta Summit for a while. So there was a fair amount of crossover. And I know I’ve read recently—I never thought about that as labor movement, per se—it struck me at the time it was more just black rights of a different sort, you know, skewing a little bit more towards more middle-class people than we worked with, but that’s kind of how we looked at it. Yeah, there was a broad base of stuff, and there was little nitty-gritty stuff.
We had a bunch of kids who had scholarships to the Galloway School, and I was the bus driver [laughs]. I’d pack lunches the night before, we’d get up bright and early, and I’d drive them out to the north side to Galloway. I don’t know if you’ve talked to Silva Griggs Britt, who is on the board, but she was one of my kids that I took out there.
LL: Do you remember the other children you drove? I have talked to Silva.
DM: Let’s see, there was Silva, there was Dexter Favors, there. . .oh God, I don’t know. Silva could tell you who they were probably better than I could. It was funny because everybody had lost all track of Dexter Favors. They were from a very, very poor family—a lot of kids and it was not good circumstances. And Dexter turned up at the 40th reunion and blew us all over with a feather. It was nice to see him, too, because we had no idea that he’d show up, and he did.
LL: Were you familiar enough with the Summit Leadership Conference to recall what they were doing in the time period that you’re at Emmaus?
DM: Employment. They were involved with employment, and I can remember one of the big things that was going on in the city of Atlanta this time that everybody was trying to sort out how they felt about MARTA. That was just coming to the fore, and some people were against it because it would displace black people and, you know, every kind of, all the expressways displaced a lot of poor people, and then there was no new housing for poor people. It was just, “Let’s move them out.” Some of the housing projects that were way, way out were almost like reservations. But on the other hand, [MARTA] could get people the jobs. So, different people had different takes on it. I remember Hosea Williams was dead-set against it. Joe Boone thought it was great. Austin Ford had to figure out how he felt about it. You know, it just bubbled constantly. On the school desegregation piece I worked very, very closely with Frances Pauley, who was like my grandmother. She was really my big mentor when I worked there. Frances passed away a couple of years ago and, oddly enough, she was living up here when she died.
LL: Tell me about her. I’ve read the book about her with the oral histories in it.
DM: Well, the book pretty much nails her. I mean, she led an incredible life in terms of being involved with human rights stuff from the 1930s through 1980s—really into the 1990s. That is an incredibly long run. Most people burn out after awhile, but Frances kept right on trucking. And she was not the person who was out in front of everything as much as she was beside people. I think part of that was being a woman of her time. Frances was in her 90s when she passed away. One of the things she had talked to me about, she said she always wanted to be an attorney, but that wasn’t an option for girls her age. I said something, and she said “Well anytime I was doing something, I always had to have my facts straight, because they’d just come back and say, ‘Well, look at her—dumb woman.’” And I said to her, “Frances, it didn’t take that much moxie on your part to get the better of Sloppy Floyd (head of Appropriations) down at the state legislature.” And she smiled and laughed. And she said, “You know, I haven’t thought of that son of a bitch in 30 years.” But that was one of her nemeses back in the early days, and I mean she just went on pure grit. She was loads of fun to work with. I found that she was incredibly supportive of anything we were doing. When I left Emmaus House, I was going back into teaching, [and] she just thought that was great. She said, “I could never teach.” Now her daughter told me [that her] mother would have been superintendent of schools rather than the teacher, and that’s kind of what she was like. She was just a terrific, terrific person.
LL: So what did she work on on a day-to-day basis? Was she more focused on big picture policy?
DM: Actually, she worked for HEW [Health, Education, and Welfare]. She was a civil rights compliance officer for Mississippi until John Dean came along and told her Nixon didn’t want her messing around with white folks there. She was too effective and the Mississippi Republican Party was not happy with her, so they sort of took away her teeth. Shortly thereafter she retired. So she was still working full time for HEW and she would, I remember there was one point where we had taken political action against—.
We had visited HEW. A group of us went down, we went into HEW and pulled a sit-in there. And we did one at the Atlanta Housing Authority, and then we actually did a sleep-in at the Model Cities office down at Georgia Avenue, or below Georgia Avenue. They had prefab offices, and they were not building housing in the Model Cities area, so we decided [laughs]—and they weren’t pleased about us being there but they didn’t want to get too nasty about because it wouldn’t look very good for them.
LL: So she’s still with HEW even when she’s working with the PRO?
DM: Oh, yeah, yeah.
LL: And how did she respond when you guys had your action against the HEW office?
DM: She blinked and said hello [laughs]. And smiled a whole bunch and winked. She knew we were coming, but since she was on duty that particular day she didn’t want to tip her hand, nor did we want to tip her hand. So she just was very polite and happy to see us [laughs]. It was one of those street theatre things, you know?
LL: Do you remember the action against the Housing Authority?
DM: They weren’t building housing. I mean, you know, they had displaced a lot of people. They had displaced a lot of people with the interstates that came through the area, and what housing there was was way, way, way, way out. I can’t remember the name of it, but there was one way out on the West End. Leila Valley was out pretty far, and there really wasn’t much in the way of transportation or services or stores or any place people could do anything, or clinics, or much of anything out in these areas. It just sort of got them out of downtown. So, they always said Atlanta was the city too busy to hate, but it was also the city too busy to care.
LL: So, at the time, did you all think that the city had intentionally placed the public housing that far out?
DM: Oh, yeah. Yeah, it seemed to be part of a policy. And I mean the places where they put them were very isolated. They certainly weren’t putting them in the middle of a white neighborhood or anything radical like that. But Thomasville was out by the federal prison, and Leila Valley was even further out. They were the two housing projects where we had busloads of kids going to the north side [for school]. So we worked those areas quite a bit and the Welfare Rights Organization was active out in those neighborhoods too.
LL: Let me take you back to the actual Emmaus House, Poverty Rights Office site. Imagine that somebody who might be reading your transcript in a couple years might not be familiar at all with Peoplestown or the site itself. So, could you describe what this place looked like in 1970 to 1972? Emmaus House and the Poverty Rights Office, but also the larger neighborhood?
DM: Okay, the neighborhood had a lot of large old houses that were probably built back in the 1910s that had gone to seed. The main Emmaus House was a two-story building that sat on the corner of Capitol Avenue and Haygood. Downstairs there was a small kitchen. There was a laundry room in the back [that was] very tight. There was a dining room where a lot of the surplus food stuff worked out of. There was what we called the sitting room. It was a side room where you could take somebody and sit and talk with them but we didn’t have meetings there or anything And then an office where we would meet people. Each of us had desk duty, and we’d be there to talk to people, greet them, you know, help them in any way we could when we weren’t out in the neighborhood. Austin had an apartment upstairs—I’m thinking, three rooms. There was a bedroom. There were actually two bedrooms, a sitting room, and there was a kitchen. A small one upstairs. That was his apartment. There was a house next door, which is where I lived. It had what was a grocery store and a chapel, and the two were eventually combined into a chapel. There was a large meeting room where the welfare rights organization met and where we sometimes did stuff with teenagers. There were two staff bedrooms. Each held two at maximum capacity. Gene Ferguson lived in one of the rooms; I lived in the other one. There was a bathroom in the middle. And then behind us there was sort of a [recreation] room where we had ping pong tables and stuff like that where we did stuff with kids as well. Behind the main house there was a small shed where a lot of times we’d just stack up extra food that nobody claimed, and we’d put it out there if somebody came to the door and was desperately hungry—we’d see that people got it. Then behind the main house, there was a smaller house that was called St. Anne’s. It was not in great repair. There was a large room that was the Poverty Rights Office and there were two or three bedrooms out there. Nobody lived there during the winter, but in the summer time we might have 6 or 8 or 10 people living out there. That’s generally where the college students lived, and then we’d bunk up with roommates in the house next door where I lived. So we might have let’s say [counting] eight people might live in the back house, and in the side house four of us would live. So it got really crowded and very active. I was only child so this was wonderful having all these people around. I liked it—always a lot of activity. I mean, some people were working with kids, some people were out on the street…
I worked with teenagers so I had assisting roles in the summer school. The first year I didn’t have anything much to do with them. The second year I did tutoring because I had been a teacher, and we had taken a more educational bent with the summer program. Then in the evenings I would work with teenagers. But the people who didn’t work in the summer school would be out working on the street with clients.
LL: Working on the street with clients or answering the door or—?
DM: Both. I mean, you know, we had clients come in and talk to us when we’d be working the desk. Then they might have a need to go apply for welfare or something, so when we weren’t working the desk, then we’d make an appointment with them to go do whatever it is they had to do and each of us tended to have our own clients. We’d interchange sometimes if somebody got busy
LL: Tell me about the neighborhood.
DM: The neighborhood was very, very poor—lots of children, lots of single moms. It was interesting because you didn’t see a lot of adult men in the neighborhood. They were there but they kind of led a very shadow existence, because according to the welfare regulations they weren’t supposed to be around. I mean the welfare regulations at the time certainly did not support two parent families. [There were] two terrible neighborhoods of concrete block apartments near us. Sugar Hill was south of us, just off of Capitol Avenue, was the opposite side of the street and about a block and a half down from us, and it had maybe 30 apartments that were cinder block construction with concrete floors and just horribly shabby—little gas heaters that maybe worked and maybe didn’t work. Then there was another neighborhood about five or six blocks away called Primrose Circle. That would have been east of us, going down Haygood Street. And again, that was probably 20 or 30 apartments, too, that were just the absolute worst. I know we had one lady that was living in one of these small, maybe a two bedroom apartments with 9 kids.
LL: And those are privately owned apartments?
DM: Yes they were. Not public. Now a step up from those were the apartments that were on Washington Street. I think some of them are still there. It was interesting though because when I was there in 2003 (I hadn’t been to Atlanta since 1973)—Frances and I came down—the neighborhood looked entirely differently because there was all that stuff they had done when the Olympics came through. And they either mowed down or fixed up an awful lot of stuff in the neighborhood. My understanding was the city of Atlanta wanted to clean up the neighborhood, so it put all its eggs in the basket so it would look good for the Olympics. It was sort of like the neighborhood was now yuppies—doctors, professionals, you know. An in-town neighborhood now would be popular because you wouldn’t have to commute so far. There’s still a fair amount of poverty in the area, though. I noticed too there were a lot more kids when I was there. A lot of the schools have closed.
LL: So there were more kids in 1970 to 1972?
DM: Oh yeah, there were kids everywhere, and Pryor Street School was brand new back in those days. It’s closed. I don’t know what they’re doing with it now. Capitol Avenue School is now apartment buildings. D.H. Stanton, which was down near the Primrose (the Primrose Circle Apartments are now gone) and that’s the neighborhood school for the whole shooting match now. But just by the number of elementary schools that were there then and are there now, there’s got to be a lot fewer kids in the neighborhood.
LL: You remember the streets being paved, or the recreational facilities?
DM: Now, that really surprised me. I grew up in the Baltimore area. For a big city, there were a lot of dirt streets [in Atlanta], which really surprised me. You could tell black neighborhood verses white neighborhood, and who got paved and who didn’t. And generally, the very poor black neighborhoods, a lot of the streets were not paved, which just really blew me away. I was not ready for that.
LL: And it was still that way when you left in 1972? Nothing had improved?
DM: No. See, Model Cities raised a lot of expectations, but nothing—they didn’t do anything. You know, a lot of the people in the neighborhood had aspirations that the neighborhood was really going to change and all this stuff, and it was all show. I mean they really didn’t do anything. EOA (Economic Opportunity Atlanta) was the [Office of Equal Opportunity] for Atlanta, and they didn’t do much of anything. They would teach ladies how to cook, and that was pretty insulting. The ladies in the neighborhood didn’t like it because they’d been cooking for white folks a long time and didn’t think they needed to have classes on how to use their surplus food.
LL: Did EOA have a community center?
DM: They had a little office about two blocks down the street from us but they did very little really except send people to us for food and stuff [laughs]. They were south of us.
Just south of us there was like a duplex building that housed Vic’s Grocery Store. I think Vick was Greek but everybody called him a Jew. You know, that’s like opposite discrimination; if you ran a store, you were [labeled] Jewish back in those days. And perhaps he was; I don’t know. Then next to it was Bethlehem Healing Temple which featured a lot of bass drum music on Sunday mornings and wasn’t very active the rest of the time. Across from them was something called the Kokomo Lounge, which was a big gambling spot. I went there a time or two. But generally we stayed out of it. The main lounge and the gambling stuff was upstairs and you had to be checked out at the door before they let you in. Kokomo is gone [now]. But the neighborhood was very shabby. The Atlanta Public Library had a satellite down the street from us, going towards the capitol. As you got down towards Atlanta Avenue there was a grocery store that people used to refer to as Mr. Happy-Jacks that had been burned up in the riots. A lot of the rioting had happened more down toward Atlanta Avenue and there were burned out places from that. That would have been in , and I came in 1970.
LL: So the burned buildings were still visible? You could see the remnants.
DM: Yup, oh yeah.
LL: And did you guys hear about the riots when you were at work?
DM: Some, not a lot. That was ancient history by the time I got there. People would talk about what the neighborhood was like and stuff but I didn’t get a lot of detail about the riots.
LL: Tell me, I know you have an emotional attachment still to Emmaus House and Poverty Rights Office, what did you take away from there? Why was this place important to you?
DM: Oh God, it’s funny, I just wrote something on Facebook this morning because Pat Conroy’s got a new book coming out, and his first book The Water is Wide resonated with me so much——because he was out Daufuskie Island, SC around the same time I went to Emmaus House. I have to say I learned a lot more than I probably gave. It’s interesting because I think every single one of the people I worked with, you don’t find any of them selling insurance or anything, or mutual funds. Everybody turned out—Dennis Goldstein’s a lawyer, Mabeth Settlage and Susan Taylor are both teachers, I was a reading specialist. I was going to be a high school history teacher but I got really concerned with literacy while I was there. We had some volunteers who had taken their Masters in reading from Georgia State, and I was very interested in what they did and that’s what I went on to do. That certainly wouldn’t have been my direction had I not worked at Emmaus House. I taught in and wrote federal programs for educationally disadvantaged kids—for thirty-two years—and I still do now that I’m a retired teacher. I still go and evaluate No Child Left Behind programs, so I’m still doing the same kinds of stuff. I mean, I found out about Title 1 when we were desegregating schools, and I was coming home to Baltimore and I went down to Washington to talk about how the money could follow the kid to the white school when they were desegregating. So, our work is more a vocation than a job. It’s a calling, and that’s Emmaus House. That really is. I mean, it was funny because this last year with the election of Obama, I was on the phone to Tom Erdmanczyk, to Susan Taylor, to Mimi Bodell, and to Mabeth, and all of us had to watch the election returns alone. We couldn’t share that with anybody else. And it was funny because we all talk about how our sensibility was more that of black people than white people. Nation magazine had this wonderful picture of Obama being sworn in, all the civil rights people behind him. You know, the little girls killed at the church in Birmingham, and all that stuff, and that was very much my sense of things during that. Has anybody talked to you about the situation with the kids in Mississippi?
LL: A couple people have alluded to it. Do you remember it well? Could you tell what you know about it?
DM: I can talk about it. I was not on that particular trip. Tom Erdmanczyk would have been on that particular trip, and so were Mabeth and Mimi.
By then I had left working at Emmaus House. I was a graduate student at Temple University and my intention at the end of the summer was to go down [to Emmaus House] and have a visit. You know, the summer program would have been over with and it would have been quiet, and I’d have time to visit with people and everything. Austin called me after I had made the arrangements to go and he said we’ve had a tragedy and told me about it. They had taken kids to New Orleans, they were staying at a place in Mississippi. Three of [the kids] had drowned. They thought a boat of catr-calling whites had made a wake that pulled the kids under, but nobody could prove much of anything. They had had all kinds of problems getting the bodies tended to and it was just horrible, and they needed some time where the staff members who were involved could leave Emmaus House and get some breathing room. I went down and managed the house for a week or two.
You know, it was one of those things, I went down there, I did that, I came home. I never, I certainly never forgot it, but I never talked about it with anybody. Two years ago, it was the summer of the Emmaus House reunion, Duncan Grey, who is the Episcopal Bishop in Mississippi, had been at our diocese and convention talking about Katrina relief and he mentioned the two towns where this, all this stuff played out and . . . I was just overcome. I hadn’t dealt with that yet. I’d kept it in the back of my mind, and I had. . . I had to leave the meeting, I was so upset. I thought no one would understand what I was feeling. I went down and we had our reunion and Tom Erdmanczyk—he’s the bus driver who brought the kids home for crying out loud—and we’re talking about it some, and Claiborne had known what had happened but she didn’t know much about it. When we were doing this wall of [memory] stuff, that’s when we got to talking about it. I wanted to know the kids’ names. This was my mission. So I pulled it up, I found a newspaper article from Mississippi. Claiborne said, “Talk to Duncan Gray, he’s the one person who would know all about what your issues are.” And I did! I wrote to Duncan Gray, and I got the kindest letter back about the events in Mississippi. He said, “I have stuff I can’t talk to my children about.” He said [that] there is so much that people won’t talk about or can’t talk about.
So, I sort of followed up with some of this. I talked to Mimi, who had been there. I talked to Tom. I don’t think any of us are ever going to know exactly what happened there, but it was pretty tough. I know Mimi said that was the last big summer trip they took with kids, because it was just too much responsibility, and she said they had terrible guilt over the whole thing. My kids were amazed because they’d never heard any of this and it’s like, “Oh! This is why you think the way you do.” Yeah, it has a lot to do with it. Talking about it really helped. I had a very bumpy summer that summer. And interestingly enough, the clipping I got from Mississippi arrived on the anniversary of the drowning. Call it what you will—I think Holy Spirit—but different people could see it as coincidence but it was just odd the way it happened.
LL: So who sent you the clipping? Duncan Gray sent you the clipping?
DM: No, no, no. See, dumb me, I didn’t realize how devastated the Mississippi coast was so I contacted the library in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and they said they didn’t have anything. I wrote back and [explained why I wanted it]. So, they went to the state librarian in Jackson and found it and sent it to me, which was incredibly kind of them to do. I’ve often wondered, “was that librarian white or black?” [laughs] I realize things have changed a little bit. Maybe. Oddly enough my son has worked in Hancock County. He’s a graduate student in South Carolina in hazards and vulnerability and they have a big project on the Mississippi coast. He knows this whole area where this happened. A cousin of mine doing Gulf Coast relief work actually stayed at a remnant of the old Gulfside Methodist Assembly, which is where the kids were staying when they died.
LL: What year was the incident?
DM: 1973. It’s funny because all of this—in talking about it—we all had a lot of trouble with Katrina. I mean, it raised it all up again, and it’s one of those things you just put in the back of your head some place. You don’t forget, but you don’t look at it a whole lot and it brought it all out again. I know Mimi said she had [experienced] that. Tom said he wasn’t too bad, but he had been through funerals and stuff. My involvement in it was more tangential, so it was just one of those things I went and did it and got on with life. I wouldn’t have said it had any impact on me until now.
LL: It’s amazing to think back on that now.
DM: It had a lot of impact on my relationship with God and a lot of other things that I couldn’t have told you about at the time. I just kind of carried that and didn’t deal with it too much. If I had been there for the funerals and all, and was able to work out some of it—and certainly nobody knew about crisis counseling or any of that kind of stuff. That was not around then. So you just figured out on your own what to do with it. I talked to Mabeth Settlage who had was on the trip. She said, “I watched that hurricane and I thought, God has washed the whole place clean.” That’s a little bit about how I felt about it too when I found out all the stuff was gone—the place where they stayed was gone, the civil defense people that did the investigation of their murders, they were all gone, the files were all gone. Everything was gone.
LL: So, there had been an investigation?
DM: Sort of. The coroner met the day after the murders and declared it a drowning without any sense of the cause of it. The newspaper article went on and on and on about who did what and all this stuff, and the last sentence in it said late reports indicated that boaters may have been involved. It was all swept under the rug. There was never any real investigation of the whole thing but that was what the local paper reported. I sent the clipping to Duncan Gray and he said our water hides a lot of secrets, too. I said I thought it was soil, but it’s water too.
LL: I realize that the event occurred in south Mississippi, but what was the reaction in Peoplestown? Did people clamor for an investigation? Was there acceptance that little would be done?
DM: Well, Mimi talks about flying the bodies back. Tom Erdmanczyk took the bus and brought the kids home, but Mimi and Austin stayed to deal with the bodies. They finally worked it out and found some undertaker who had really helped them, and that was a major production. They got the bodies on the plane and when they landed at the Atlanta airport, Mimi said there was just this huge throng of people. She said Austin felt so guilty [that] he said, “Do you think they’re going to arrest us?” Really it was all of black Atlanta out to support them. Tom said the same thing—he said the community just drew people who had been with the kids in and loved them. So, you know, I haven’t been able to find out anything about the Atlanta reaction to it in the press. Mimi had said the Great Speckled Bird—an alternative paper at the time—had done a big thing on it. She said that Boyd Lewis may know something about it, and I called him and he didn’t have any memory of it.
LL: I may be able to find the Great Speckled Bird articles. I’ve been through that period. I don’t remember seeing an article on that but—
DM: This would have been in August of 1973. You know, Mimi thought there was stuff in the Bird, Boyd said yes he remembered it as a terrible thing and that was it. He was not going into detail. And so we sort of had a working relationship with the Bird and all different kinds of alternative stuff that was going on in the city. I mean, it was like a network.
LL: It may be in the Inquirer or the Voice, too, which would have been who Boyd was working with.
DM: Yeah, nothing certainly in the Journal-Constitution much.
LL: I’ll look and I’ll send you whatever I find.
DM: That would be nice. Working at Emmaus House really was life changing, and I am very tight still with the people I worked with and that was with a 25 year break where I really wasn’t in touch with any of them. Actually, what had happened, I had no ties with anybody left at Emmaus House in Atlanta and in 2002 or 2001, I guess. I dropped Frances Pauley’s name into a search engine. I googled her, and I came on the autobiography and I ordered it. I knew when I worked in Atlanta that Frances had a daughter that lived in Lancaster, about ten miles from where I live. And I knew she was married to a physician but I never knew her married name. When I read the autobiography, lo and behold, her daughter was married to the pediatrician that took care of my kids here in Pennsylvania. Odd circumstance. This would have been two or three years after the biography. Frances was old and blind, and I didn’t even know if she was living or not living or quite what to do. So I wrote this note to Marylin Pauley-Beittel explaining who I was very gingerly, and saying I would love to get in touch with her mother if she was able. The next day I had a telephone call from Marylin who said, “We just moved Mama up here from Atlanta. She lives right across the street from Park City (which is our big mall) and she would love to see you.” Frances had no ties to Atlanta here and was feeling a little disconnected, and it was great that she found somebody that could remember those days with her. I went over and had a lot of really good visits with Frances and then, lo and behold, my mother is terminally ill with lung cancer. So I mean, I was doing nursing home down at that end, and I could only do so much nursing home.
After Mom passed away I got back in touch with Marylin and went back and saw Frances a few more times, but she was much more fragile then. Then they had a memorial service up here. Mimi Bodell and I kind of organized together, and in true Emmaus House fashion didn’t coordinate anything and walked in with the same piece of liturgy. We looked at it from different angles but there we went it all hung together just fine. That was a service more for Frances’s grandchildren. Then they had a big funeral in Atlanta and I flew back and then I connected up with Susan and Tom and all those people. Mimi had been visiting up here—she lived in Philadelphia—and so I connected with her then. It was like there had been no break. We really are a family. We just picked right up where we left off.
The Emmaus House reunion was like that. Tom and I said, “Well, who we expect to be there won’t and who we don’t expect will show up.” And Tom said, “Well that’s pretty much what life at Emmaus House was like.” I mean you never knew from one day to the next what life was going to bring you. It was a rollercoaster. One of the things that I have that’s kind of interesting is when my mother passed away I found in her effects letters that I wrote from Atlanta when I was working there. It was very interesting to see now, with this many years’ perspective on things, to see what my day-to-day concerns were back when I was there. It was really interesting because it changed from day-to-day and week-to-week. I mean, of course as a white middle class person in that neighborhood, a lot of it was just completely outrageous.
LL: You know, I’d like to see those. You might not want to share personal letters, but those would be great for—
DM: I’m not sure where they are, I’d have to put my hands on them. If I do find them, I can e-mail you and send copies because it was just really interesting to read, look at those through the eyes of a 21 year-old.
LL: They would be so valuable—to have that record of what was going on, as you say, “through a 21 year-old’s eyes”. They would be just wonderful, and I’d love to deposit them with the collection.
DM: I mean, it’s all “what’s going on this week”. I would usually call home once a week, but I wrote letters in between, and she saved them all, which I thought was kind of cool. I never expected to see those. My mother was unlike me. She was extremely organized. Now me, I have to think, “Now where did I put the darn thing?” Oh, she had everything in apple pie order, and it was fun to find those.
LL: Let me ask you to clarify a point from the start of the interview. You said that Austin Ford had sent you a letter that said he might have something for you. How did he know you were looking for alternative service, do you know?
DM: The American Friends Service Committee had a directory of sites approved for conscientious objectors. We were obligated to do alternative service for two years. There was a brief window where you could makes arrangements for an assignment, Otherwise they typically assigned people to work in state mental institutions.
LL: So you had a list of alternative sites?
DM: I had a list of alternative places, that were approved by the selective service for alternative service. We had Mennonites and different people who came through and worked. Several of us were conscientious objectors – Dennis Goldstein, Pete Newton, John Sargent, Ray Maynard, and Tom Erdmanczyk crossed paths with me and were all COs. We had college students and different people that just dropped in, too. I mean, it was quite an education to go work at Emmaus House.
LL: So, these sites were pre-approved, basically.
DM: Yes. I just wrote blind letters stating who I was, what I was doing, what I was looking for, what I was interested in. And he saw something in the letter that interested him, so he was willing to pay for a plane ticket to fly me down there and have a look. It was interesting because my parents were just very leery of the whole business of “I’m going off to Atlanta and in a poor black neighborhood. God only knows what this thing is going to be like.” The first time they came to visit they were very leery, and they went home total fans. They were just captivated with the people I was working with. Emmaus House just had this lovely way of taking everybody in who came along. The neighborhood was quite lovely that way too. There were things in the neighborhood that were probably dangerous, but the folks in those neighborhoods looked out for us a whole lot. We didn’t get into much trouble. I know it really used to tick the female volunteers off because there were white hookers who lived across the street from us and the cops would try to sort out who these women were. Were they Emmaus House girls? or were they girls from across the street? I can remember Susan and Mabeth and some of the other ones got really ticked off that the cops were doing that. I mean, they’d engage them in a conversation about who they were and what they were doing and they knew what the score was. We were very naïve going in there.
LL: What else should I know about Emmaus House that we haven’t talked about yet?
DM: The people who were there in my time have observed—and we’ve talked to Claiborne about it—it’s a little more institutionalized now then it was then. [Then,] it was much more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants. I don’t know how their interns work now but the idea of having a crew of young people who were there 24/7 on site is not how it works anymore. The other thing that we’ve talked about is, things were much more political back in our day. In the ’70s we were trying to see that poor people got very basic rights. Now many of the rights are in place and the difficulty is getting the system to work. Things aren’t nearly as punitive now as they were then. It was odd how things worked out, because I can remember Lester Maddox was governor of Georgia when I came down there. And Mrs. Mathews, who was head of the Welfare Rights Organization, got into it with the Welfare Department. She did not get a check and the Welfare Department claimed she stole her own check. She was going round and round with the Welfare Department and was trying to talk to her case worker, who was being real snippy with her. The lady said, “why don’t you just go down and talk to Governor Maddox at Little People’s Day, where he talks to all the poor niggers and crackers?” So Mrs. Mathews went down and talked to Lester, and Lester thought [Mrs. Mathews’s welfare check situation] was outrageous, and he straightened it out. Lester didn’t have any great fondness for black people, but he was kind of a populist. I know that he cleaned up the prisons because his own son was in prison. So he did things like that in spite of himself—helped all poor people and not just white poor people. That was one of the things that was very strange. First of all, everybody was a Democrat; there weren’t Republicans in Georgia back then, so politics got wild, the way alliances would shift and stuff. I know Frances always said, “you try to leave the door open because today’s enemy might be tomorrow’s friend.”
I know Mimi at one point used to tell this story that she was picketing somewhere and saw something in the window she could use. So she put down her sign and went in to hit the guy up for the stuff. Mimi could put the bite on people better than anybody in the whole world. She got what she wanted and then she resumed picketing. She went for her masters in Social Work in Cincinnati for awhile and she left us with a hit list and she says, “okay, if you want to go to the movies, here’s who I call, and you do it in rotation, and you just tell them that I told you to call.” They never knew she was gone. “Sister asked us if we could give you call and da-da-da-da-da-da.” In retrospect, living in Philly, she said Atlanta was much easier than Philly is. She says most of Atlanta was not Catholic and she said, “I could wrap them around my little finger.” Here in Philly you have all these people that had a bad experience in Catholic school. “My being a nun doesn’t have nearly the charm up here that it did down there.” I mean, Mimi had no idea what she was asking people for. I mean, she lived in a convent and had no clue what stuff costs or how any of this happened. They had done a trip where they flew people down to the beach, and they took all the food that was necessary to feed them. Ginny Tuttle, who was one of our volunteers who lived out near Ponce de Leon Avenue—she was the federal district courts judge’s daughter-in-law—she did all the catering for us, and after the trip was over, she went to Mimi and she said “now, did you just think you were going to pray this thing up and it was going to happen? Or how does this work?” Mimi said “Ginny, you just don’t get it at all. That’s not how it works. I just pray that God will send somebody who will know how to do it all and he sent you.” She said “And didn’t I feel like an idiot then.” But that was how Mimi was. I remember one day she wanted a sponge mop and I was supposed to call Mrs. Tuttle to find out where to buy a sponge mop. I said, “I beg your pardon?” And she says, “yeah, I need to know where to buy a sponge mop.” What comes out of my mouth was, “where have you been all of your life?” I mean, the answer was in a convent. I said, “didn’t you have mops?” She said, “yeah but they never had to go buy them.” So, I told her “you, don’t need to call Mrs. Tuttle, and here’s where you buy sponge mops.” I mean, such was her experience with that kind of stuff.
LL: I appreciate all of your time today.
DM: Oh, I love talking about Emmaus House. It’s great.
The thing with Emmaus House and this struck me when I was there for the reunion, they gave us all shirts ‘Emmaus House 40th Reunion’ and I still had on my T-shirt when I flew from Atlanta to Illinois for family stuff. It was a three-way trip, and when I’m at the Atlanta airport waiting for my flight to Chicago, I went to get something to drink. The girl who was working the counter looks at my shirt and just beamed. I said ‘do you know Emmaus House?’ And she said ‘Yeah, I used to be in the summer program when I was a kid’ and I really thought how many people in this city white and black has this place touched? And Beyond! I mean all these people that came tripping through there and I have a list probably. I’d have to see what I did with it but I know Tom Erdbancyk had a list of about 30 people that were through there about the time we worked there. We were trying to resurrect names; we haven’t so much followed up on where a lot of them are. It’s hard with the women because they are married now but it was quite a list. We put our heads together and we’re talking about some that he wasn’t sure about and somebody else would remember and it was neat just doing that. And I mean, that was like a two or three, four year snapshot of a place that’s been around for 40 years. All of the ladies that drove surplus
When I encountered Muriel, we were standing next to pictures of the time and she was clear as a bell. I volunteered at a food bank and I used Muriel’s card system from 1970 to organize our client base at our food bank here in Pennsylvania and I told Muriel this and she said, “well, I was always the organizer, and that was never really valued at Emmaus House when I was working there.” I said, “it was valued more than you thought, you being the one who sort of cracked the whip and kept us in line and kept us organized.” I mean, she really was very good at that and had organized all these squads of ladies and stuff, and she was wonderful at that kind of stuff.
LL: It has been a great joy and I will be back in touch with you by e-mail, sir. Good talking to you.
DM: Thank you for your time, yes, good talking to you too. Good bye.
[end of tape]
 Primrose Circle has since been renamed Grant Way.
Interviewed by: LeeAnn Lands
Location: by Skype
Transcribed by: Caitlin McCannon
Edited by: Rachel Cronin/LeeAnn Lands
The Emmaus House-Peoplestown oral histories are edited to provide reading clarity while preserving the interview’s conversational tone and the speakers’ speech patterns.