LEEANN LANDS: I thought that we’d start off by having you introduce yourself, and then you can launch into your history at Emmaus House—how you came to here about Emmaus House or Austin Ford, how you started getting involved there, what the place looked like early on, what it felt like. And then we’ll move on from there. I’ll take notes as you talk and perhaps ask you to return to some particular topics that I might want to flesh out. And then, hopefully, we will have time to move onto some of the other housing rights issues that you were involved with that may not have been directly related to Emmaus House.
DENNIS GOLDSTEIN: Okay. My name is Dennis Goldstein. I grew up in the San Francisco area. I was going to the University of California. In 1968, I lost my educational direction, dropped out of the university in my senior year and applied for CO [conscientious objector] status. I was searching for something meaningful to do with my life. One of my best friends at University of California was from the South, and I was intrigued by the South because of the Civil Rights movement there. I talked to this friend, who had attended a church in Atlanta where the minister, Austin Ford, left the church to start Emmaus House, a community center in the poorest part of the city. Working at the center as a conscientious objector interested me.
I talked to my friend and his family and to Austin Ford about Emmaus House. Although the Episcopal Diocese sponsored the House, Father Ford welcomed anyone seeking to work there or participate in its programs and viewed the House as a place without economic, racial or religious barriers. So I planned to go out there and look it over with an eye toward working there as a conscientious objector. In the spring of 1968 I was approved by my draft board for alternative service, although they didn’t decide where I could perform the service. Still I planned to go out to Emmaus House immediately after the approval, but Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.]’s killing disrupted things in Atlanta for a while. I delayed my going until June 1968 and during the interim worked on Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign in the San Francisco area.
I did go out to Atlanta in June 1968. Emmaus House was still within its first year of operation. Several full-time volunteers (Jennifer Hocking, Sister Mary Rose, Sandra Schleinz, Howard Smith and George Wiley) were living there when I arrived, and times were very vibrant and exciting. Father Ford and others were in the process of developing creative new programs and getting to know the neighborhoods around Emmaus House. Gene Ferguson, from another poor Afro American City neighborhood, arrived at Emmaus House about the same time as me.
My arrival there was a huge shock for me because of the cultural differences between the poor predominantly black neighborhoods surrounding Emmaus House and the middle class suburb outside of San Francisco where I grew up. The local dialect was especially hard for me to understand and interpret. Still, I was looking for a direction for my life and a challenge, and I decided to start working and living there. That summer was the first year of summer programs at Emmaus House, and the summer program for neighborhood children had just started when I arrived there. Approximately one hundred children attended the program.
At that time, Emmaus House consisted of a two-story main house , an adjoining house and a small structure out in back of the two houses. The downstairs of the main house contained a reception area (for the community), a dining room and kitchen for the staff, and living quarters upstairs for Father Ford. Annie Ruth Magby, who had worked years for Father Ford at his former church and the House, cooked and cleaned the house, and Joseph Smith, a neighbor, did the maintenance work. For years, a colorful neighborhood man, Ralph Johnson, drove Emmaus House’s bus. Most full-time volunteers, including me, living in the adjoining house, which also contained a meeting room and a small church. The small structure also housed volunteers, and eventually also contained the Poverty Rights Office.
LANDS: So you mentioned that the programs are just in formation. What did you all start with? Did you start with the summer program? Did you start with poverty rights? What was kicked off first?
GOLDSTEIN: The main program when I got there was the summer program. Sister Mary Rose, a nun from Philadelphia, was running that program under Father Ford’s direction. Most of the full-time volunteers at the time were working in that program. Ginnie Tuttle, the daughter or daughter-in-law of federal Court of Appeals Judge Tuttle, provided the meals for the program children. I arrived at Emmaus House just as the summer program began.
Shortly after the program started, Emmaus House flew the program kids for a week to Jekyll Island in southeast Georgia. I was a counselor for six young boys during the week there. I was amazed that none of these kids had seen the ocean before. In fact, one of initial impressions about the kids is that before Emmaus House opened, most had never encountered white people other than the grocery store owner or the insurance salesman. Some younger neighborhood children told me that before enrolling in the summer program they had never left their neighborhood.
Following the Jekyll Island trip, there were classes and recreation for the better part of the day, with some education. In the initial programs for children, the goal was to expose children: to middle class people, to new sights such as the zoo, to nature and to other parts of the city. Gradually, as the programs matured, more education was introduced, and I think, in Father Ford’s mind, this was the seed eventually for the education center at Emmaus House.
When I arrived, Emmaus House was only a year old and just starting to respond to the community’s needs. Another already established program was the weekly Episcopal church service in a small chapel in the adjoining building at the House. There was no effort to recruit for the service, although many resident and suburban volunteers and neighborhood residents attended it. Following the service was singing and a social mixer with food. I first heard many of the gospel songs associated with the Civil Rights movement ( such as “Wade in the Water and “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder”) on service mornings. I remember that residents Clarence Ezzard, Ethel Mae Mathews, Mae Helen Johnson and her children, and Sylva Griggs were active participants in the services.
The House also scheduled several Christmas events, especially for children. Before Christmas, a “secret shop” was opened for a day, allowing children to pay nominal prices for gifts for their parents. A black santa claus also visited at Christmas time, bringing gifts for the neighborhood children in Emmaus House’s programs. After the House obtained the school bus, staffers would take seniors, adults and children on bus tours of Atlanta to see Christmas exhibits and decorations.
A major program in the development stage when I arrived was the Welfare Rights Organization. It also was in its infancy but had an active membership of several dozen people. Shortly after I arrived, Ethel Mathews was elected president of the organization. At the time, the welfare payments in Georgia were appallingly low. I mean, it was incredible how little a family would receive based on what the State of Georgia called the “percentage of need” It was in reality a very fraction of actual need. Also, there were restrictive rules governing welfare benefits. For example, a family couldn’t receive benefits if the father lived with the mother and children. Before I arrived, Father Ford had encouraged interested welfare mothers and supporters in the neighborhood near Emmaus House to create a Welfare Rights Organization. At the time a National Welfare Rights Organization provided back up support for local groups, including guidelines on how to start a local group and suggestions about issues to address.
Another existing program at Emmaus House when I arrived was the Surplus Food Pick Up Program. I’ll say more about that program later.
When I arrived, Emmaus House served another important function in the community. From 9:00 am to 10 pm, the reception area was open to the neighborhood, and visitors could sit in a quiet place, visit with staff and air their problems there. During this time, people from the House or the neighborhood would staff the reception room, entertaining visitors and answering the phone. After the room closed for the night, Father Ford would answer the phone and address emergency calls. Staff on duty also provided emergency canned food from a storage area on the premises to needy residents asking for food.
In California, I had supervised youth recreation programs, so during my first summer at Emmaus House, I organized games and recreation for kids in the neighborhood. There was a vacant lot around the corner from Emmaus House, across the street, and I started games and supervised recreation over there during my first summer. I also helped with the regular summer program for children and helped with the monthly welfare rights meetings. And that’s what I remember from the first summer. Shall I gone on?
LANDS: Yes. I know you were involved in expanding some of this.
GOLDSTEIN: Primarily, my first summer was a learning experience. Southern culture, the predominantly African American neighborhood where I lived, and intermingling with really poor kids, were all challenges and new exciting experiences for me. I encountered white folks with hostility toward Afro Americans and people like me mixing with them. Initially, I spent a lot of time learning how to respond to these new challenges from Father Ford and the more experienced volunteers at Emmaus House.
Initially, communication was a big problem for me. It took more than the summer for me to learn the Southern dialect, especially with the slang that the kids used. For example, if a child didn’t want to do something, the kid would say “I ain’t”. I had to ask Gene Ferguson what the kid was saying and what it meant. Local people were also intrigued with the way that I enunciated my words, and some of the children with whom I was friendly liked to mimic my speech patterns.
I learned a lot from Father Ford. He was not only intelligent and creative but knew about the history and politics of the area, and he was very fond of sharing his knowledge. He grew up just outside of Atlanta and as a child remembered the robed Klan riding past his parents property out to Stone Mountain. From younger days, he had participated in the Civil Rights movement. He had a wide circle of socially active friends, coordinated with several other City agencies that served the poor, and severed on several of their boards, including the ACLU, Atlanta Legal Aid, and the Metropolitan Summit Leadership Congress.
I felt like a sponge in terms of learning from Reverend Ford, the kids that I worked with and other neighbors whom I met. From the beginning I liked going out into the neighborhoods around Emmaus House and meeting people to get to know them and their ways. During the second summer that I was there, Father Ford arranged a series of educational seminars by friends and Civil Rights luminaries such as Ralph David Abernathy, Grace Hamilton, Donald Holloway and Frances Pauley to educate the House staff. I learned a lot from these seminars.
At the end of my first summer, I had to return home because my local draft board would not approve the work at Emmaus House for my alternative service. I had met with the Georgia draft board, and they said that they’d approve the work if my local board approved. Before meeting with my local draft board, I went to my Congressman. I was lucky that my Congressman was the only Republican in Congress who then favored ending the war in Vietnam. He was an ex-Marine named Pete McCloskey, and he was sympathetic to my plight. I think he helped persuade my local draft board to approve my work at the House.
So following the approval, I immediately returned to Emmaus House in the Fall of 1968. When I returned, the nun running the summer program had already left.
LANDS: That’s Mary Rose, not [Sister Marie] Mimi Bodell?
GOLDSTEIN: Correct, Sister Mary Rose. When I returned, Sister Marie Bodell was a part-time volunteer there, primarily teaching a class for teenage girls.
GOLDSTEIN: After I returned to Emmaus House, I took charge of organizing after school programs for the neighborhood children. I rounded up, I think, about 35 or 40 volunteers and hooked up these volunteers with three or four kids so that once or twice a week after school the volunteers would expose the kids to new experiences such as the zoo, Stone Mountain park and the Art Museum. Some volunteers would take the kids to meet their children and to their homes. I also recruited several children into the program from a ramshackle neighborhood nearby known as Primrose Circle.
I kept the after school children’s program going during the school year until Sister Marie undertook more volunteer work at Emmaus House in 1969. Beginning with the 1969 summer program, she took over the kids programs. In later years, she continued the summer program and expanded programs for kids during the school year. At the end of the summer program, she and Father Ford took the kids to Camp Michael, an Episcopal church camp in North Georgia.
Gene Ferguson helped Sister Marie with the children’s programs and ran his own program for teenagers. Gene arrived at Emmaus House shortly before me, and we quickly became friends—didn’t always agree on everything, most of the time we did. Then Gene developed the relationship with teenagers and they—especially the teenage boys and a lot of them were very difficult to deal with—and Gene formed this special program and worked with them. Later, Columbus Ward, a nearby young resident, came to the House and began his own recreation programs with youth in the neighborhood. Columbus worked with Peoplestown youth for many years, made hundreds of friends there and, along with Gene, positively influenced many of them.
Incidentally, Ginnie Tuttle, who initially provided meals for the summer program, had begun a campaign after the first summer to collect Green Stamps and raise funds in order to purchase a school bus to take the kids in the summer program on excursions. Amazingly, by the summer of 1969, she raised the stamps and funds in order to acquire the bus.
Sister Marie, Gene and I also became deputy voting registrars and worked together in 1969 and later on a voter registration campaigns in the neighborhood. Few neighborhood residents had ever voted because of historical racial restrictions on voting. That was another eye-opener for me. Previously, Father Ford and Welfare Rights Organization members had initiated lawsuits to break down election barriers such as oppressive qualifying fees for poor candidates. After that, Emmaus House focused on voter registration.
Sister Marie was very resourceful. She had made friends with Manuel Maloof, who owned Manuel’s Tavern near Emory University. Mr. Maloof was politically active, and Manuel’s Tavern was a center for political discussion. Manuel provided kegs of beer to Emmaus House, which were used at a series of voter registration parties for the neighborhood. As a result, we registered several hundred local residents to vote and persuaded some neighborhood residents to run for local offices. One of the residents, Clarence Ezzard, was elected to the legislature and represented the neighborhood there several years. Another resident, Margaret Griggs, was elected to the Atlanta School Board. Her daughter, Sylva, participated in the House programs and was later a volunteer there. I worked on both of these campaigns.
On the night that Obama was elected President, Sister Marie, Gene and I telephoned each other. We were all filled with emotion going back to our thoughts and feeling when we registered the first wave of black voters. At the time of the registrations, we didn’t know exactly what was down the road but the idea was to increase minority awareness and political power. At least, that was my idea, to do that on a broad scope in terms of every activity, and one of those activities was to break poor African Americans out of the cycle of assuming the terrible life they had been subjected to would continue, and that they would continue to accept. Initially we had trouble with voter registration, but the beer enticed people, and then we worked on voting. Eventually, we did increase registration and voting totals in the local neighborhoods.
During my first year at Emmaus House, sanitary workers for the City of Atlanta went on strike due to low wages and discrimination against black workers. I was shocked to hear how low the hourly wages were. Although the sanitation crews were integrated, black workers were prohibited from driving the garbage trucks and were required to pick up the trash even if they were more experienced then the white workers. Drivers received a relatively higher salary than workers who picked up trash. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) provided people to support the strikers and arranged for churches to provide space for the striking workers to meet. Since several of the workers lived in the neighborhoods around Emmaus House, Father Ford, other House volunteers and I provided support to the strikers during the strike.
1968 to 1973 were interesting and active years at Emmaus House. During this period, it had several volunteers who committed to at least a year or two of service at the House because they were conscientious objectors, VISTA volunteers or looking for meaningful work. Aside from me, CO’s David Morath andTom Erdmanczyk, who later became teachers, worked at the House for at least two years. Aaron Clendenon was another CO who worked there. VISTA volunteers Sue Hoffman, Sandra Schleinz, Doug Favero, and Scott Williams also worked at the House for one or two years.
Several other outstanding people with an interest in teaching or working with children spent time at Emmaus House during its formative period. Sue Taylor, who later obtained advanced education degrees, spent summers and holidays there. Mabeth Sutledge, a teacher from Los Angeles who had been to Africa, also worked at the house for a long stretch. Debbie Shields, a future teacher, participated in many of the children’s programs and met Tom Erdmanczyk, her husband, at the House. Gail Mahan, a young nun, worked in the children’s program for a year or two.
Father Ford, arranged with a friend at Union College in New York to provide several volunteers during the summers of 1969 and 1970. As a result, Emmaus House housed between ten and fifteen summer volunteers in the summer during these years. Father Ford and Sister Marie supervised the volunteers working in the summer and educational programs, and I supervised a few people working on organizing activities with me.
Several key volunteers in the early years at Emmaus House came from St.Bartholemews, Father Ford’s former church in Atlanta’s suburbs. They included Nancy and Ted Beischline; their son Bob; Susan Beasley; and Ginny Thompson. They provided valuable administrative support to the House. During the early 1970s, I would guess that at any one time several dozen or more part-time suburban and neighborhood people did some type of volunteer work at the House.
In 1969, Sandra Schleinz started a lunch program for seniors known as the Golden Age Club. Sometimes, she would take the seniors on educational trips. Sandy had a great rapport with community people, and loved to visit with neighbors who came to see her when she staffed the office. During this time, Phil Desorba, a summer volunteer, and Gene Ferguson, started an expanded recreation program for teenagers. I wrote a grant request, enabling them to get recreation equipment for a teenage recreation room that we opened at Emmaus House.
Many local residents had relatives in the State prison at Reidsville, Georgia. In 1968 or 1969, Father Ford started a program in which Emmaus House would take monthly trips on Saturday in its van or bus for people to visit their relatives in the prison. For several years, many families used this service to visit imprisoned relatives or friends.
Another activity was the development of a nonprofit food co-op located at the House. I believe that Father Ford and members of the local Welfare Rights Organization came up with the idea for the co-op. The idea came about because the neighborhood around Emmaus House had no supermarkets, only small grocery stores. These stores were high priced and lacked quality goods, much less fresh produce. The Cracker Jacks that I occasionally bought at the nearest store were so stale that all them were welded together inside the box, and I could tell that the ice creams bars that I bought would melt and refreeze.
As I said earlier, surplus food, not food stamps, were available to poor residents of the neighborhood and the rest of Atlanta. Fulton County, in which the Emmaus House neighborhood was located, had only one distribution point in which qualifying poor families would pick up food once a month. The pick up point was located several miles from the neighborhood, so people without cars had difficulty obtaining the surplus food. Father Ford and Sue Hoffman, an early VISTA volunteer, had recruited a couple of dozen suburban volunteers, mostly housewives, to pick up and deliver surplus food to hundreds of individuals or families who were unable to pick up their own food. My recollection is that Muriel Lokey, who was a superb administrator, later administered this program.
While surplus food was a godsend to starving families, it was not an ideal option for the many poor families who lacked a car. Families whom we didn’t help would have to pay a friend or a taxi to pick up the food., so Emmaus House operated the surplus food pick-up program going for several years until Fulton County converted to the food stamp program in the 1970s.
LANDS: Do you know who supplied the food at the surplus warehouse? Was that a county or federal program?
GOLDSTEIN: It was a federal program administered by Fulton County.
GOLDSTEIN: The program was wide-spread across the United States before the food stamp program became adopted across the country in the late 1960‘s and 1970‘s. Surplus food consisted of surplus commodities purchased the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I can still picture the surplus food that I saw in paper bags and cans at the warehouse, beans, flour, rice, powered milk, dry beans and peanut butter. Recipients would stand in line to obtain food, the slowly go through the warehouse and pick their allocated food items off a conveyor belt or from someone there handing them the items. I also remember the U.S. Department of Agriculture stamp on all of the cans and bags containing the food.
Surplus food did not address peoples’ need for fresh produce and other healthy foods. So, in 1969, under Father Ford’s leadership, volunteers and neighborhood residents converted one of the rooms at Emmaus House in the adjacent building where I lived, into a co-op food store. The store was staffed by a combination of volunteers at the house and from the neighborhood. They’d go out and buy fresh food from the farmers market and bring it in and sell it at the food co-op. Neighborhood volunteers would be provided discounts on the food for their work My recollection is that Johnnie Brown, an outside volunteer, managed the coop for a while. The food co-op lasted for two or three years.
Another problem with surplus food was that it did not address an infant’s food needs. For a while, Emmaus House ran a program for young mothers to provide appropriate food for several dozen babies who were periodically examined and to advise the mothers about the good health practices for their infants.
By 1969 or 1970. the local Welfare Rights Organization at Emmaus House had grown significantly in membership, attracting members from outside the immediate neighborhood. Some members were from public housing projects in southeast Atlanta called Thomasville Heights, Englewood and Leila Valley. Under Father Ford’s direction, I worked with members there to help start two or three more local Welfare Rights Organizations in Thomasville, Englewood and Leila Valley. So, in the 1970s, there were a few local welfare rights groups in Atlanta.
LANDS: So, when you say three different groups—that would be one at Thomasville, one at Leila Valley, and one within Peoplestown?
GOLDSTEIN: Correct. Also, for a while Englewood Manor may also have had its own group. The Peoplestown group included members from a wider range of Atlanta. For example, residents from as far away as Perry Homes and Techwood Homes would attend the welfare rights meetings at Emmaus House. Which reminds me—one of the things that astounded me was hearing at the early welfare rights meetings at the House that nobody on welfare had access to the welfare rules. And this fact was one of the earliest seeds for my desire to become a Legal Aid attorney. Of all the injustices that I had seen up to this moment, I think, this fact struck me the most, that the Welfare Department wouldn’t give recipients copies of the rules or summaries of the rules. So, essentially welfare recipients were under the control of their caseworker, whether benign or hostile. At that point, I understood what was meant by “plantation mentality”.
I believe that Lester Maddox was or became Governor during my early time at Emmaus House. He had a fairly good welfare director, Bill Burson, who planned to run for a statewide political office. During my first year at the House, the local Welfare Rights Organization started picketing activity and public demonstrations. One of the their first demonstrations was to picket the State Welfare Office and to demand that welfare recipients be given a copy of the welfare rules. I thought that this was a most reasonable demand.
The picketing was successful and we got a copy of the welfare manual, which no one connected with welfare rights had previously seen. I volunteered on behalf of the local Welfare Rights Organization to read the welfare manual and summarize it in a pamphlet so that welfare recipients and their advocates could read and understand the welfare rules for their own good. I enjoyed writing the educational brochure for welfare recipients and their supporters, and this activity stimulated my thinking about wanting to become an attorney for poor people.
Within my first year at Emmaus House the local Welfare Rights Organization there elected new officers, and Ethel Mae Mathews was elected president. Ms. Mathews, was a self educated, smart women with leadership ability and the unique capacity to express the collective feelings of her fellow welfare recipients. As a result, she was president of the Organization in Peoplestown for many years. The other local welfare rights groups had their own presidents while they were in existence.
The welfare rights activities took up a significant amount of time for the [Emmaus] House. There would be monthly meetings and then we assisted the organizations with several demonstrations in the first few years. After the picketing to obtain the copy of the welfare manual, there were public demonstrations to complain about the Surplus Food program. As I indicated, the program did not provide sufficient food or balanced nutrition. In one memorable demonstration, members of the Welfare Rights Organizations marched for a couple of miles up Peachtree Street to Seventh Street, where the offices of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare were located. In that march, Ms. Mathew’s elderly neighbor named Pinkie Stinson—a thin and gaunt lady, but a very feisty lady, lay on a stretcher with a sign that said “too weak to walk, victim of surplus food.” Then, we picketed around the regional federal HEW (Health, Education and Welfare) office, which provided funding for welfare and surplus food programs. The purpose of the march was to persuade Fulton County to convert to the food stamp program.
The local Welfare Rights Organizations also picketed Sears because Sears wouldn’t provide credit cards to welfare recipients. That was memorable because Sears’ employees pulled the adult retarded son of one of the welfare rights mothers into Sears during the demonstration and [Sears] offered him a credit card as a response to the picketing.
LANDS: Now I know that other welfare rights organizations in the United States are picketing Sears at that time for the same reason, to establish credit at the various stores. So, it sounds like that the Peoplestown organization is in communication with the whole national movement. How did you guys maintain that communication?
GOLDSTEIN: The National Welfare Rights Organization would periodically send out literature to the local groups; I think every month or two. And that literature would focus on what the people were doing nationally or what the national group recommended. The local groups in Atlanta coordinated their activities. Their activities sometimes responded to locally initiated requests and other times to local needs that coincided with issues that the national group focused on. So for example, the first picketing was a more of a local need, getting rules. And then the picketing over surplus food was more a local issue because a lot of other communities in the country obtained food stamps before Atlanta. But there was a lot of local picketing over the low welfare payments and mistreatment by caseworkers—those were two areas that national focused on. And the credit card issue was also an issue that National focused on.
LANDS: On that very first picketing that you mentioned, picketing the state welfare office to demand the welfare manual. You said that it was successful and that you got the welfare manual. Are you suggesting that they willingly handed over the manual after you picketed?
GOLDSTEIN: I’m saying they did.
LANDS: They did? Okay.
GOLDSTEIN: As I said, the welfare director Bill Burson had a somewhat liberal reputation. He was planning to be a candidate for a state office and sought support from moderate voters according to Father Ford. And so I guess that could cut both ways, but I think he wanted to diffuse the picketing. But in any event we made the demand, he agreed to it at the meeting, and soon provided the manual to the Welfare Rights Organization.
In contrast, the Organization later picketed the Georgia state capitol over the issue of low welfare payments. Governor Maddox refused to meet with us. One of Governor Maddox’s deputies invited us into the Capitol, to stop the picketing and to talk about welfare payments, but the Governor wouldn’t meet with us. In fact, he then ordered his deputy to put us out of the Capitol.
LANDS: So what do you think are the most active years of the welfare rights movement in Peoplestown?
GOLDSTEIN: In my opinion, the most active years were 1968 through 1972. Again, for a while, there were several active groups with members from many of Atlanta’s poorer neighborhoods. Members were beginning to develop confidence in speaking out and other leadership capacities and focusing on issues such as injustice and poor quality of life that previously that they assumed that they couldn’t change . During this time, members focused on basic rights such as obtaining higher welfare payments and using formal grievance hearings to dispute termination or reduction of benefits or other improper decisions by their caseworkers. They also focused on better pay for black workers, securing better housing and food and electing better government officials.
Another issue involving both the neighborhood and welfare rights people was the Model Cities Program. In 1969, the City of Atlanta received several million dollars in federal monies under this five-year program to improve services and provide affordable housing in five contiguous neighborhoods in south Atlanta. Peoplestown was one of the designated neighborhoods. Temporary offices to house staff to administer the Model Cities Program were built several blocks north of Emmaus House, where Turner Field, the Atlanta Braves baseball stadium, is now located. Under the Program guidelines, the Model Cities staff was supposed to obtain community input from each of the five neighborhoods, including Peoplestown, before making any funding decisions. Thus, I helped the local Welfare Rights Organization and other Peoplestown residents prepare suggestions for improving the neighborhood. Our initial impression was this process was a kind of a dog and pony show where the Model Cities staff talked primarily to recognized neighborhood leaders and made little effort to obtain grass roots input on how the Model Cities funds should be spent. As a result, Welfare Rights members felt that they had insufficient input about programs and felt that the funding proposals were not sufficiently benefiting Peoplestown and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Thus, the local Welfare Rights Organization became disillusioned with the Model Cities Program and in 1970 or 1971 decided to hold a protest at the Program’s offices and to demand more affordable housing for the affected neighborhoods. Ms. Mathews and Columbus Ward lead a protest involving Welfare Rights Organization members and other neighborhood people. The protest culminated in a sit-in in the Model Cities offices.
LANDS: Now at that point had y’all seen a plan and it clearly wasn’t providing enough low income housing? or was this sit-in based on assumptions of how other development plans had gone with other cities?
GOLDSTEIN: I think it was two things. Residents were seeing that the citizen’s advisory groups didn’t include ordinary citizens. The Model Cities community organizers weren’t getting out and hearing from ordinary citizens. So, at least in Peoplestown, we provided ordinary citizens for them—welfare rights did. Number two, people saw the proposals and didn’t think that the proposals addressed the neighborhood’s worst problems, including the lack of affordable housing in Peoplestown. During this period, Emmaus House and Peoplestown residents sought to develop decent affordable housing in two neighborhood locations to replace the many units of slum housing that the City had demolished. The proposed housing developments were called Boynton Village and Capitol-Vanira Apartments. The first plan involved the construction of about 200 new townhouses, and the latter proposal involved the renovation of three or four dozen apartments. I believe that these plans were funded and implemented after the Model Cities demonstration, so [the demonstration] might have been effective.
These two housing developments were eventually developed through Interfaith, a non profit housing developer funded by a consortium of Atlanta’s black and white churches and administered by director Gene Bowen. My recollection is that Father Ford and Gene Bowen initially came up with the idea for these two low affordable housing developments. Subsequently, Gene and his Interfaith staff developed plans for the developments, arranged for their funding, oversaw the construction of the developments and managed the housing.
LANDS: And you, you’re thinking that that’s while you’re away at school, before you came back?
GOLDSTEIN: Yes, I think that these housing developments were built in the early 1970s after the demonstrations at Model Cities. I was at Emmaus House from the summer of 1968 to fall 1970. And then I went back and worked at the House during the summers of 1971, ’72 and ’73 between my school terms at out of state schools.
LANDS: While you’re enrolled in school the balance of the year?
GOLDSTEIN: While I completed my undergraduate work and then attended law school, correct.
The summer work reminds me of another major project on which I worked. In 1969 or so, the federal court in Atlanta came out with a disappointing school integration order involving the City of Atlanta School System. The order provided for a so-called M-to-M plan, meaning that if a child was in the racial majority at the child’s local school, the child could voluntarily transfer to any other another appropriate Atlanta school where the child was in the minority. So, Father Ford talked to me and Mark Coven, another volunteer (and future attorney) about the order and how parents in neighborhoods served by Emmaus House could benefit through the order. We then talked to a few neighborhood parents about the order, and most of the parents were enthusiastic about transferring their children to better schools.
Since I was working with neighborhood kids, I was familiar with the poor quality of the schools in the Peoplestown area. That is, most school buildings and school yards were run down and schools lacked the best equipment and teachers. And they didn’t have the PTA support, because the parents were poor and, unlike the wealthier parents at the white schools, could not afford to pay for extra school equipment and services. In contrast, the schools on the north side, the white schools, were just immaculate. So, following guidance from Father Ford, Mark and I agreed to go “door to door” in selected neighborhoods to inform parents of the school desegregation order and to see if parents wanted to send their children from the neighborhood schools to Atlanta’s best schools on the north side of town.
I believe that Mark and I spent the summers of 1969 and 1970 working on the school transfer project. Initially, Father Ford accompanied Mark and me around Peoplestown and Summerville near Emmaus House so we could further “test the water” with parents in our summer program. Most parents jumped at the chance to send their children to a better school, even if it meant they had to travel across town. Hundreds of kids enrolled in the transfer plan the first summer, requiring the school system to provide several school buses at targeted locations in Peoplestown and other neighborhoods to transport the kids to elementary schools and Sutton Middle School in Buckhead.
After enrolling children from Peoplestown and Summerhill in the transfer program, we went door to door to more parents in Thomasville Heights, Englewood and Leila Valley (because of the Welfare Rights Association contacts) and we informed people of the right to transfer and summarized the conditions at the north side schools. I think each summer we recruited about three hundred kids who agreed to transfer. Then we worked out transportation where the schools had to provide transportation for those kids, so that the kids a neighborhood would all transfer to the same school. The second summer, we also arranged for kids to transfer to Northside High School.
I still remember the two different reactions to the school transfers. Emmaus House was besieged by hostile telephone calls by upset north side parents about the integration of the white schools. I fielded some of these calls and was upset and stunned by the anger and vulgarity of the responses. Father Ford indicated that he received many similar calls and that some of our supporters and contributors in Buckhead and other affluent areas of Atlanta terminated their contributions and other support due to the House’s involvement in integrating the schools. Yet, the other reaction the affected kids and the parents was equally strong but positive. They were thrilled to be provided the superior educational and social opportunities that were available at the north side schools.
Anyway, the school transfer work took up a significant amount of time Emmaus House between 1969 and 1971. During the school year, Father Ford, Sister Marie and others arranged paid jobs for neighborhood parents to ride the buses with the school children, informed parents about school activities and problems, provided transportation to PTA meetings and other school events, and provided other extra support, including tutorial assistance.
LANDS: Do you have a sense of whether the kids stayed in the schools and finished their education?
GOLDSTEIN: For the better part they did, yes. Father Ford, Sister Marie, Gene and Columbus Ward, who did the bulk of the work with the transfer children and parents and kept in touch with them, would have a better sense of the transfer success.
I remember many examples of success stories, local kids who transferred to north side schools and eventually completed college. For example, brothers from Primrose [Circle] named Terry and Tony Pace did very well. Tony eventually attended Trinity College in Connecticut. Some of the children became teachers after attending college. Occasionally, I wondered, “are these kids going to be successful anyway?” My sense is that the combination of the Emmaus House programs, influence and mentoring by House staffers and volunteers and the education at better schools made a great difference for many children. But the short answer is, at least when I was still active in Emmaus House, most kids stayed [in school] and eventually graduated. There were some difficulties with kids who had emotional [challenges]. I remember [that] some kids who transferred were doing so well that the private school, Galloway School, awarded scholarships there to a few of them. And for the better part, I think the kids at Galloway school did very well. And then what I remember is that a number of kids who came out of those programs then went onto college. Years later, when I worked at Legal Aid, several of the “school transfer kids” contacted me to tell me about their success stories.
LANDS: Did Galloway provide the scholarships for the Peoplestown children? or was that through private funding? or through Emmaus House?
GOLDSTEIN: My recollection is, Galloway initially took two kids a year and provided scholarships for them. At one point, I think that Austin Ford obtained scholarships for half a dozen children. And then [he] was also able to get scholarships for prestigious summer camps for some of the children, where they’d go off to North Carolina or New England with fully paid scholarships.
LANDS: So I’m curious about this you going back to law school. Tell me about that. What prompted that decision and what did you want to pursue?
GOLDSTEIN: What prompted that decision was the sense of injustice that I saw on a day to day basis working at Emmaus House and traveling around the Atlanta area. I was shocked that the American system was not working for the poor Afro American residents for whom I worked. They didn’t realize that they could vote; they lacked access to decent schools, jobs, recreation areas and food. And as I’ve said, they had no knowledge or control over the welfare system, which affected many of their lives.
Part of my cultural shock when I got to Atlanta was still seeing how African Americans were treated in Atlanta, and even more so in the smaller towns and rural areas outside of Atlanta. In a nutshell, I was shocked that many (not all) white folks felt so superior to black folk and caused black people to feel so inferior. Also, many white people were upset and hostile when white people like me associated with and supported black folks. That was part of it, and part of it was that I saw the impact in the welfare system. It just wasn’t a system based on economics, but it was a system based on old time southern paternalism, where the welfare recipients were fully under the control of other people. My overwhelming sense after arriving in Atlanta in 1968, and my overwhelming desire from the beginning, was first to put myself in position to help change the status quo, but also to put poor people and Afro Americans in a better position to change their own lives.
My experience in the Atlanta garbage strike also confirmed some of these feelings. As I previously mentioned, in 1968, at the time of the Atlanta garbage strike, Emmaus House supported the City workers since several of them were from Peoplestown and adjoining neighborhoods. The strike issues were similar to the Memphis garbage strike where Martin Luther King was killed. In Atlanta, I remember that each garbage truck used three people on the truck: the driver, somebody else standing back, and a third person doing most of the heavy lifting. And the blacks, the African Americans, could only have the third job, which paid less and was the worst work. I don’t remember the specifics, but I was just amazed how little the pay was, something like a dollar and a quarter an hour. And because of the low wages and the discrimination, the workers went out on strike. Some of the white workers participated in the strike to obtain better wages. And the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and a number of blacks ministers supported the strikers, along with Austin Ford and people from the Emmaus House. Father Ford was co chair of the community support group for the workers and played an active role in building support for the strikers.
At the height of the strike about a hundred strikers, along with many of their supporters, were arrested and jailed for picketing and blocking garbage trucks driven by workers who ignored the strike. Father Ford and several Emmaus House staffers, including me, were among those arrested. After a day or so, we got out of jail. That was quite an experience, as the jail didn’t have adequate facilities for the arrested strikers and their supporters. Jail food, which was one meal a day of beans and fat back, was the worst food that I ever ate. The jail experience was “worth it” because I believe that the strike was settled with some increase in pay, and I think for the first time that African Americans could qualify as drivers.
My experiences at the garbage strike rallies confirmed my feelings from my neighborhood work. At the rallies, and Hosea Williams from the Southern [Christian] Leadership Conference struck the theme that the strikers were somebody. And it struck me that up to this point black people had been so passive in the face of superior and hostile treatment by most white people. . . that they were so trampled on and so used to discrimination and a tough way of life, that they accepted it, at least in the poorest neighborhoods.
Hosea Williams and other black leaders such as the Reverend Joe Boone provided positive leadership and helped inspire and the raise the confidence of ordinary Afro-Americans. And Emmaus House focused its effort to expose poor residents to supportive middle class and white people and institutions. so that black folks could see that (other than going to church) there were ways of changing the direction in their life, including through education. Looking back, my experience from the garbage strike further got me thinking how I could play a role in changing the relationship between blacks people and white people in Atlanta.
LANDS: I want to make sure we talk about your law school decision.
GOLDSTEIN: Yes, law school. Because of these experiences at Emmaus House, my thinking evolved where I thought that I could go to law school and become an effective lawyer in helping to address the massive injustice and oppression against black people. I’m always up for a challenge—going to law school and becoming a lawyer to represent people who were victims of discrimination or other injustices because of their race or lack of money or lack of sophistication. – became my life goal. I also envisioned myself as a lawyer who would help put victims and victim groups put themselves in a better position to deal with their discrimination and oppression.
Besides the day-to-day poverty and mistreatment of Afro Americans that I witnessed, several other customs and events impacted my view about injustice. Outside of Atlanta, I still noticed that gas stations and other businesses operated segregated bathrooms and other facilities. Emmaus House volunteers were told to avoid taking neighborhood children to parks or recreation areas in some areas such as Forsyth County just north of Atlanta because residents there were hostile to Afro Americans. In fact, there was a well-known slogan in North Georgia that “the sun hasn’t set on a nigger in Forsyth County since 1906”, when the residents expelled all African Americans there into other counties.
A Emmaus House activity in south Georgia had a big impact on me. Around 1969, Afro American residents in Sylvester, a small town in Worth County near Albany, Georgia, decided to march through the town as a means of protesting the school’s mistreatment of a young Afro American student. House volunteers and other Civil Rights supporters were invited to join the march in support of the local residents.
The march was my first direct, “in your face” exposure to the Ku Klux Klan. Several hundred peaceful marchers proceeded through the town surrounded by hostile counter protesters and the Klan. I was struck by the extreme anger and hostility of the counter demonstrators. At one point in the march, some counter demonstrators drove by and dumped open bee hives in the midst of the marchers. Shortly thereafter, the local police allowed a car to pass through the marchers, knocking many of them down. As a result, one elderly marcher suffered a heart attack and died.
In short, my day to days work at Emmaus House and these other experiences embedded in me a deep sense of injustice involving the poor, particularly southern Afro Americans subjected to longstanding prejudice from white southerners. This sense then gave me a mission in life, to do my small share in addressing this injustice. Based on my experiences at Emmaus House, I thought that I could best do my part to address the injustices by becoming a lawyer. I had seen “To Kill a Mockingbird”, so perhaps I saw shades of Gregory Peck in myself. By the time I finished my alternative service work at the House, I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer.
So, my entire focus in going to law school was to become a lawyer for poor people. During the summers between my law school terms, I assisted Civil Rights attorney Margie Haymes in locating plaintiffs and procuring evidence to support a lawsuit seeking metro wide desegregation of schools in the Atlanta area.
Two of my other projects at Emmaus House developed my sense of injustice and desire to go to law school. There was an apartment complex down the street from Emmaus House on a knoll called Sugar Hill, with about Afro American 30 to 40 families renting there. Their housing conditions were just awful; I particularly remember some front doors lacked locks, roofs leaked and the premises were infested with rats and roaches. The development was managed by Chapman Realty, and Mr. Chapman was a Georgia Tech grad. I became acquainted with conditions there when I went to help a blind man, Pete Mann, living at Sugar Hill. Mr. Mann introduced me to his neighbor, Joseph Render, who informed me about general conditions problems and introduced me to other tenants there. Mr. Render later moved next to Ms. Mathews and became an active member of the Welfare Rights Organization.
After meeting several of the tenants at Sugar Hill, I met with them and heard their complaints about the poor conditions and their inability to obtain needed repairs. Eventually, they decided to form a tenant organization]. We would meet monthly and seek repairs, and I think we had some success. Looking back, I think that I helped inspire residents to believe that they didn’t necessarily have to passively accept unsafe and unhealthy living conditions. We put the management company on notice that they weren’t going to be able to ignore resident requests any longer. As a result, the group succeeded in getting Chapman management to deal with the rat and roach infestation and to make key repairs. I worked with Sugar Hill residents until I left Emmaus House. Because of that capacity building, some residents there, such as Joe Render and Leroy Nesbitt eventually moved and influenced tenant groups in other parts of the city.
The second project involved another run down set of fifty or so apartments known as Primrose Circle, which was located several blocks from Emmaus House. Initially, I recruited children from there to be in the children’s programs at the house and to transfer to the north side schools. The apartments were some of the worst housing in Peoplestown area, and it was owned and managed by a crazy man named Winston Mosley. He styled himself as the Marlboro man, a tough guy. He would ride his motorcycle to Primrose, and had a gun strapped on his waist as he’d collect rent. He wore jeans and a white tee shirt with the sleeves rolled up to show his muscles and he’d go around and intimidate people while collecting rent and ignoring repair requests. His treatment of the tenants at Primrose was so outrageous that I vowed one day I would help the Primrose Circle tenants improve their living conditions.
One of my first projects at Legal Aid was to meet with the Primrose Circle tenants, and they formed the tenant association, and we made requests—demands—on the Primrose Circle landlord to make repairs, and he wouldn’t fix up anything. The tenants withheld rent and sued him, and it generated a lot of unfavorable publicity on the City. Eventually we filed a lawsuit on behalf of many tenants and, in course of the lawsuit, the tenants instigated a rent strike.
During the lawsuit and the rent strike, Mr. Mosley visited Legal Aid to challenge me to a dual. I remember we made him check his gun at the desk. The other lawyers were just—they had heard about [him and] when they saw him march in they were just all wide eyed since he looked like a “Hells Angel”—and he stomped down to my office to see me (and all my fellow lawyers are huddled behind him), and he challenged me to a dual. He said, “Whatever you want, guns, knives, brass knuckles.” I go, “well, let’s just dual it out in court.”
In the course of the lawsuit against Mr. Moseley, I took his deposition, and he got so infuriated because, by the time we were going through court proceedings that rent strike was so successful we had, I don’t know, we had many thousands of dollars tied up. And he just jumped out of his chair during this recorded preceding and started threatening me and shaking his finger in my face, and my fellow attorney says, “Let the record reflect that Mr. Mosley pointed his finger an inch from Mr. Goldstein’s face.” And Mr. Mosley said, “No, no, wasn’t more than three inches.”
And shortly after that the Legal Aid building where I worked burned down. The only thing missing from the office were my papers relating to the Primrose lawsuit, but there were no witnesses are to how the fire started. The net result of the lawsuits was the landlord wouldn’t fix the apartments but the tenants took all their money and moved elsewhere. Several of those tenants then became, they were involved in other tenant movements after that. The City of Atlanta renamed Primrose Circle because the rent strike and poor conditions there and become a well publicized embarrassment to the City..
LANDS: So it still exists as—
GOLDSTEIN: You know, I don’t remember what happened to it. The City of Atlanta renamed Primrose Circle and called it Grant Park Terrace. Not long after that, Mayor Maynard Jackson appointed me to an Atlanta housing code commission for the purpose of revising the City’s housing code. He was aware of what I had done at Primrose. I had a good relationship with the City Attorney, Marva Brooks. Became of my experience at Legal Aid in dealing with housing issues and the City’s housing code, Ms Brooks allowed me to be the primary draft person for the new code. I worked with other code commission members to significantly change the code, putting the emphasis on enforcement of rental housing conditions over enforcement of owner-occupied housing. Because of my practical experience and relationship with housing inspectors, we improved …..
LANDS: So the Primrose Circle events—what time period are we talking about?
GOLDSTEIN: My work with the kids down there started in 1969 or 1970. Also, some mothers there joined the Welfare Rights Organization and many children from there transferred to the northside schools in the early 1970s. The lawsuits and the rent strike at Primrose would’ve been in the mid-1970s, probably around 1975 or 1976.
Then just one other leap there—you talked about capacity building then. A lot of my early work was in—I was familiar with people from those, from both Sugar Hill and then Primrose Circle, which was a little larger then Sugar Hill. Then I had worked with people in Leila Valley, Englewood and Thomasville. So when I was working at Legal Aid, I started going around meeting with presidents of many of the Atlanta Housing Authority developments.
Wow! This discussion reminds me of another significant Emmaus House activity during my first year or two there that helped direct me to law school. The activity involved a mass movement among Atlanta’s public housing tenants that evolved into a citywide group known as Tenants United For Fairness (TUFF).
I think that TUFF started after Austin Ford and others received complaints from tenants about their poor conditions in Atlanta’s public housing, their poor treatment there and their inability to convince the Atlanta Housing Authority to address these problems. At the time, the Authority’s managers ruled their segregated apartment complexes with an iron first. Several of the people complaining were members of the Welfare Rights Organization members or friends of the members.
One of the early welfare rights organization members was Louise Whatley, who lived in Carver Homes, a public housing project near Emmaus House. She became President of the Carver Homes Tenants Association for many years and later became a political power within public housing. The House was also hearing complaints from other public housing residents in the Welfare Rights Organization about treatment, high fees and lack of repairs, and no formal complaint process. Also, tenants paid varying amounts of rent and didn’t know how their rents were calculated.
One story that I heard illustrated the frustration of tenants. At Perry Homes, several children of public housing residents were drowned or injured in Proctor Creek, which flowed near Perry Homes. Perry’s residents tried without success for a long time to compel the Atlanta Housing Authority to place a fence between Perry Homes and the creek. At one Housing Authority meeting where the residents informed the Authority that six kids had drowned in the creek and asked for relief, the Authority responded by disputing the number drowned, indicating that only five kids had drowned.
As a result of these complaints, Emmaus House, with several black ministers, helped to organize the Atlanta public housing tenants, and Atlanta Legal Aid agreed to represent the TUFF group. Father Ford and I visited many of the public housing developments in the city, starting with the ones where we already knew people, like Carver Homes, Englewood, Thomasville Heights and Leila Valley. This occurred around 1969, because Michael Padnos, then the director of Legal Aid , conducted negotiations on behalf of the tenants, and I think he left Legal Aid in 1970.
Father Ford and I spent a lot of time talking to the tenants about their complaints with the Atlanta Housing Authority, the agency that owned and managed public housing in Atlanta. Following these visits to the tenants, Father Ford and some of the local black ministers organized city-wide meetings with hundreds of public housing residents in order to discuss their complaints and formulate demands. Initially, Housing Authority officials would not address these demands.
Eventually the residents, who by now had formed a city wide tenants organization known as Tenants United For Fairness (TUFF), picketed the Housing Authority. There were so many picketers, I believe five hundred or more, that they formed a ring around the whole block surrounding the Hurt building, where the Housing Authority board used to meet. As a result of the picketing and negotiations, the residents got a better lease and a grievance procedure and property conditions improved. I heard that it was one of the first public housing grievance procedures in the country, and some of the rights that public housing residents secured in Atlanta eventually became national requirements in public housing. That also broadened the welfare rights network, and so for a while there was a TUFF network of leadership in public housing. From the TUFF experience, I saw that the combination of organized tenants with effective legal representation could achieve meaningful institutional change. This experience further reinforced my desire to become an attorney and represent disfranchised groups.
TUFF may have been the root of organized tenant associations in Atlanta’s public housing developments. Many of the public housing tenant association presidents in the 1970s such as Louise Whatley, Mandy Griggs, Mary Sanford and Elizabeth Webb emerged from TUFF.
I had all this as background, and many contacts from welfare rights, and from Primrose and Sugarhill, and from TUFF, so that later at Legal Aid I knew many of presidents and other leaders in Atlanta’s public housing developments. Several of the people who were exposed to one of the earlier organizations such as Welfare Rights, Primrose or TUFF then became leaders in their own right. One example of this exposure was Eva Davis, who was Ethel Mathews’ neighbor on Capitol Avenue and was active in welfare rights in 1968 and 1969. After that, she moved to new public housing at East Lake Meadows, where she became President of the tenants association there. And then, years later when I represented Eva Davis and the tenants group over there in terms of negotiating with the housing authority over replacement housing for East Lake, she had become—while she didn’t have good media publicity—she had become a great representative and spokesperson for her community. And one of the other leaders within the group at East Lake Meadows was a young woman from Primrose Circle, whose mother was one of the tenant leaders there.
LANDS: Do you happen to remember her name? Do you mind?
GOLDSTEIN: Her name was Sandra Thrasher. Her mother Ruth was instrumental in the Primrose rent strike and active in the Welfare Rights Association. Several of the Thrasher children attended Emmaus House’s educational programs and transferred to north side public schools. Besides Eva Davis, several other community leaders from Atlanta’s poor neighborhoods arose from the Welfare Rights Organization or TUFF. Mandy Griggs was one of the original TUFF leaders, and she became a tenant association president. I already mentioned Louise Whatley. Carrie Copeland became president at Capitol Homes and was a lead plaintiff in some of my class action suits against the Atlanta Housing Authority. I worked with her for over twenty years. There were also Mary Sanford, later the tenant association president at Perry Homes; Marion Greene, the tenant association president at Techwood Homes; and Elizabeth Webb, the long-standing president in University-John Hope Homes. Most of them were involved in the Welfare Rights Organization and TUFF.
During my first years at Legal Aid, half of my time was directed toward working with community groups. I have already discussed my work at Primrose Circle. I also spent a lot of this time helping the Atlanta Housing Authority’s various tenant associations address various problems. Later, when these associations formed a unified group known as Citywide, I represented it and advised it. Most of the presidents named above were active in Citywide.
Sometimes, I was invited to represent tenants at because of contacts I had established many years earlier. For example, initially I worked with Marion Greene from Techwood Homes because she was a member of the Welfare Rights Organization at Peoplestown. In the 1970s, while at Legal Aid, I then helped her tenant association address some public housing problems at Techwood. So years later, Techwood residents whom I had known through my earlier work with their tenant association asked me to help them in connection with the threatened destruction of Techwood for Atlanta’s Olympic Village.
Techwood presented a unique challenge that required me to use my legal skills along with my community organizing experience. The challenge emerged since Atlanta had been selected to host the 1996 Olympic games, and Atlanta’s Olympic committee wanted to locate the Olympic Village to house athletes on the Techwood sight known as Techwood and Clark Howell homes. Interestedly, Techwood, which was built in the 1930s solely for white occupants, was the first public housing development in the United States. Adjacent Clark Howell, also built solely for whites, was built a few years later.
Anyway, the Olympic committee wanted to build the Olympic Village on the Techwood site. As a result, Housing Authority officials and other community “movers and shakers” secretly met with some of Techwood’s tenant association officers to entice or bribe them to support plans for demolishing Techwood and relocated hundreds of Techwood families. The plan, however, failed to adequately provide affordable replacement housing for the low income families whom would be displaced from Techwood and Clarke Howell homes. When the Authority and Techwood’s tenant association President tried to persuade the association to approve these plans, many association members were skeptical of the plans, if not outraged. As a result, in the early 1990s some association members contacted me, claiming the Authority was trying to shove an unacceptable plan down their throats. I agreed with these members to review the plan and otherwise to investigate.
When I arrived on the Techwood scene, the Housing Authority and developers had just begun a series of fancy presentations to convince the Techwood and Clark Howell residents to approve the plans for demolishing their homes. Following these meetings, the residents were to vote by ballot for or against the plan. Midway through the meetings, I had reviewed enough plans and interviewed sufficient tenants to determine that the proposed plans did not protect the tenants interests and that the Association’s elected representatives were not protecting the tenants‘ interests. As a result, I met with the disaffected tenants, who represented the majority of the association’s members. These members decided to oppose the plans, impeach the Association’s officers and hold new elections. I agreed to represent the disaffected tenants, the first time in my experience as a lawyer or a community organizer where I had represented a breakaway group.
Initially, I tried to talk with Jane Fortson, who at the time was the Authority’s board chair, about negotiating a better replacement housing plan. Ms. Fortson refused to negotiate, believing that the Authority, the planners and the Associations’s officers would convince the Association to approve of the plans. At that point, I decided that I would work with the disaffected Techwood tenants as a community organizer to insure that tenants there really understood the nature of the plans to displace them on which they were voting.
As a Legal Aid attorney, I was not allowed to be involved in community organizing. So, I took temporary leave from Legal Aid in order to work with disaffected residents by printing our own informational pamphlets about the plans and going door to door to visit the affected residents. In fact, this process was similar to the one that Father Ford and I had used years before in talking to families about welfare rights, school transfers and TUFF. At Techwood, I recruited several other tenants to assist in this process.
At the last minute, as the result of the disaffected tenants’ efforts, the Authority realized the Association might reject the plans. So, a few days before the election, the Authority changed the voting rules, so that senior public housing residents in the two high-rise buildings next to Techwood could vote. These high-rise buildings were not part of the demolition plans. When the residents and I protested the senior vote, the Authority called the police and threatened to arrest us, so we backed off the protest. Even with the senior vote, the plans were narrowly approved. The close and disputed vote, which the local papers publicized, was a huge embarrassment for the Authority.
Following the vote, I returned to Legal Aid and continued to represent the disaffected tenants. Eventually, they impeached the corrupt officers, re-elected new officers and then sued to overturn the vote based on the illegal change in the voting rules. Subsequently, Jane Fortson left the Authority, which settled the lawsuit and threw out the approved plans. The Authority then hired a new executive director, Earl Phillips, who also presented unsatisfactory plans for Techwood that the tenants rejected. During this period, the Techwood tenants and Mr. Phillips fought over their right to have me as their representative. Later, after Renee Glover became involved with the Authority, it agreed to allow residents (and me) to be more actively involved in the development of the plans that were eventually approved.
The seeds of my advocacy that started with welfare rights, school transfers and TUFF and smaller tenant groups culminated in representing public housing tenant groups at Techwood, Eastlake Meadows and Grady Home over loss of their housing . Between 1995 to 2005, the Atlanta Housing Authority sought to demolish these public housing developments and disperse the residents. Under Director Renee Glover’s leadership, the Authority allowed affected tenants to choose a representative group of tenants and attorneys to negotiate with the Authority a written agreement to provide relocation benefits and replacement housing for affected tenants. I represented the Techwood tenants; Frank Alexander, Legal Aid associates and I represented Eva Davis and the East Lake tenants; and Legal Aid associates and I represented the Grady Home tenants.
On each of these projects, the other attorneys and I spent several years with tenant groups and the Authority and its developers planning and negotiating terms for replacement housing and relocation benefits for affected families. Low income folks now sat at the same table with other city leaders and were able to use their own legal representatives and experts to support their requests. As a result, to some extent, tenants were able to dictate or influence the terms on which they would be rehoused and relocated. In terms of capacity building—they were in a position to be at the table, and they were treated seriously. And often depending on how united they were, were successful in their requests.
LANDS: Right. We’re at seventy minutes and I promised only keep you an hour. There are still some items I’d like to talk about. Would you like to arrange a different time to chat or—
GOLDSTEIN: I can do it a little longer now if you can. Is that okay with you?
LANDS: It’s great with me.
LANDS: So after you’ve joined Atlanta Legal Aid, you’re still doing community organizing, but it appears that you’re heavily focused on housing and tenant issues in particular. What prompted that?
GOLDSTEIN: In 1974 when I first came to Atlanta Legal Aid, I was employed half time as an attorney on community projects and half time to handle regular cases. Because of my work with the Welfare Rights Organization, initially I focused on welfare law and housing law. The first major lawsuit in which I participated was a challenge to Georgia’s welfare payment system that welfare rights recipients wanted to bring. Some of the senior attorneys at Legal Aid were skeptical about the strength of the legal claim, but another junior attorney and I thought that the case was winnable. And [we] filed a federal suit that was successful in stopping benefit cuts to Georgia’s welfare recipients.
Not long after working at Legal Aid, I saw that the welfare rights movement was losing momentum. George Wiley, the dynamic director of the national welfare rights movement died in an accident. Also, legally challenging welfare rules became more difficult because the lawsuits over basic welfare rights such as the right to a fair hearing before termination or reduction of benefits had already been won. In contrast, after lawsuits attempting to increase welfare benefits failed, seeking a higher amount of welfare benefits became a political battle with the government, one which I didn’t think I was equipped to handle. Eventually, Frances Pauley and others took on this battle. On the other hand, I believed that I was better suited to play a role in working with tenants, changing housing laws and engaging in litigation over housing rights. So, not long after I joined Legal Aid, I moved my focus to housing issues.
LANDS: Well, one of the things I’m wondering there too and I, I don’t have a tremendous background on this, but I know the National Tenant Organization has some presence in the city in this period. So, is that movement towards housing rights also part of a national movement (as welfare rights was)? Was Atlanta’s housing movement moving with the national movement? or was it really departing from a national movement?
GOLDSTEIN: The National Tenant Organization had some contact and influence in Atlanta. For example, Louis Whatley and other tenant leaders would attend the organization’s annual meetings and bring back some literature. My recollection is that the NTO had more aggressive leadership than the Atlanta resident leaders, who were just then developing their leadership skills. Exposure to this aggressive leadership may have helped Atlanta’s leaders to become more confident and aggressive. To some extent, NTO focused more on expanding low income housing opportunities, while Atlanta’s leaders worked to improve conditions in Atlanta’s expansive public housing. Later, there was some effort in Atlanta to provide integrated low income housing opportunities in Atlanta’s suburbs.
I mentioned that initially half of my work at Legal Aid involved the community. Part of this work involved the Poverty Rights Office at Emmaus House. I’m sure other people have told you about it, but I’ll give you my take on it.
LANDS: Yeah, I’d love to hear about that.
GOLDSTEIN: In 1969 or 1970, I helped Father Ford to start the Poverty Rights Office. Initially, Father Ford had hired somebody from the community staff the front office at the Emmaus House by receiving visitors and taking phone calls . That way, Emmaus House provided a safe haven for someone wanting to escape their crowded quarters and visit or for people who had complaints they needed addressed. Soon thereafter, other volunteers replaced the community staffer and staffed the office during rotated shifts from early in the morning to late at night.
The office staffing reminds me of some other special volunteers at Emmaus House. Starting around 1969 or 1970, Mr. Coe, a retired university professor appeared on the scene. For years, he would take the bus back and forth from Buckhead and staff the office on weekdays from 9 am to the early afternoon. During the “tax season”, he and another suburban volunteer, Ted Beishline, would prepare tax returns free of charge for dozens of neighborhood residents. Another older suburban volunteer, was Ruth Beasley. Other volunteers living at the House and I also staffed the reception desk for several hours a week.
At the office, numerous needy residents familiar with the House called or visited with a variety of problems that required advocacy, including legal advocacy. Many people needed someone to cut through the bureaucratic red tape of a service agency and to speak on their behalf. For example, people didn’t receive their welfare checks, were denied social security benefits or had domestic problems. Others called to complain about consumer fraud, especially by con artists who had taken their money and not delivered a promised product or service.
Austin Ford was also handling many calls like this. At some point we agreed that the volume and complexity of these calls were beyond our capacity to handle and could be more efficiently handled by specially trained volunteers. Emmaus House had a lot of suburban volunteers, and some were looking for other things to do. So we reached out to some of the better volunteers we and said, “let’s open up the back house and put an office in there and create a poverty rights office,” and we trained people to do what we were doing. The Poverty Rights Office then began to handle the bulk of the calls involving advocacy requests, and the House covered more routine social service needs and non advocacy emergencies.
I think that Muriel Lokey was the first administrator of the Poverty Rights Office. Father Ford persuaded her to be administrator or director of the Poverty Rights Office because she had done a great job administering the surplus food program. Her husband was a prominent Atlanta attorney, Hamilton Lokey, who had encouraged me to become a lawyer. For years, Muriel did a great job staffing the office and ensuring that proper advocacy records were kept. Muriel and Hamilton also frequently attended the church services at the House.
Initially, a dozen or so people were recruited to staff the Poverty Rights Office four or five days a week. Many of these volunteers had been volunteers in Emmaus House’s surplus food pick up program. Around the time the office opened, we started the Poor Peoples Newspaper. I wrote some of the first articles in the paper about welfare rights, housing rights and voting rights. Some of the welfare articles would discuss key points about welfare rights from the summary of the welfare manual. Sometimes, the articles would inform readers about breaking new developments in welfare issues or housing issues.
The highlight of the paper was Ethel Mae Mathews’ article. She had a unique ability to express feelings and views about poor people’s dignity and rights that other poor people folks understood and related to. As a result, her articles inspired and activated others, and many people read her articles. The paper, which was free, was circulated to members of TUFF, Welfare Rights members, people who had a connection with Emmaus House and anyone else who asked to be placed on the circulation list.
In the early 1970s, I believe that the Poor People’s Newspaper had a circulation of a few thousand and went to poor people all around Atlanta. Father Ford persuaded the county welfare department to send welfare recipients a card informing them about the chance to sign up for the paper. As a result, the paper became well known. Readers would call the Poverty Rights Office about information in the paper, and so the Poverty Rights Office became an institution assisting many poor people around Atlanta.
While I was still at the House, I helped Poverty Rights Office volunteers with their cases. If we had a case needing an attorney, we would try to refer the case to Legal Aid.
So, one of my community based tasks at Legal Aid was to be the liaison between Legal Aid and the Poverty Rights Office. In that capacity, I would periodically train volunteers at the Office about basic advocacy and legal issues, keep them informed about changes in the laws and provide back up assistance or advice with difficult cases. I made sure that cases needing an attorney were transferred to Legal Aid. At Legal Aid, I arranged for routine cases that were not a priority for Legal Aid to be referred to the Poverty Rights Office.
LANDS: Did Legal Aid serve in that capacity for any other community organizations?
GOLDSTEIN: When you say that capacity, you mean as back up?
LANDS: Kind of partnership, yeah, where you have that kind of close relationship with one person named as a liaison and then there’s an information exchange.
GOLDSTEIN: To some extent, I had that relationship with many of the public housing tenant associations. When I worked at Emmaus House, I was aware that Legal Aid did not have an institutionalized relationship with community groups or neighborhood leaders. Occasionally, I could persuade a Legal Aid attorney to take on a case, and Father Ford would arrange for early Legal Aid director Michael Padnos to take up important issues such as TUFF’s demands for housing rights. Still, I remember that I could not interest Legal Aid in representing the Sugarhill group.
So, at Legal Aid I established a relationship with many of the organized groups of poor people about whom I was aware. Most of these groups were tenant associations in Atlanta’s public housing developments. I met with them periodically, helped them address their legal problems (usually housing or welfare issues) and kept them informed of recent developments in housing, consumer and welfare issues. As a result of these relationships, through negotiation or litigation, the groups addressed many of their problems. After a few years, I persuaded Legal Aid to hire a full-time community education person to assist me in the educating low income community about their legal rights .
LANDS: Is Frances Pauley at Poverty Rights in this period? Do you remember?
GOLDSTEIN: I don’t recall Frances actually handling individual cases at the Office. When I first came to the House, she was still working with the federal government engaged in integrated Mississippi’s public schools. My recollection is that in the 1970s, after Frances retired, she worked directly with the Welfare Rights Association and perhaps with Poverty Rights staffers or other people to advocate for higher monthly benefits for welfare recipients. In this capacity, for years she attended numerous state welfare agency meetings and legislative sessions to persuade the various State of Georgia agency officials and legislators to increase the standard of need and the benefits for the State’s welfare recipients.
In addition to Muriel Lokey, I remember several other staffers in the early days at the Poverty Rights Office. They were Anne Sapp, a former welfare case worker; Petie Cason; Harriet Herriot; Barbara Reed and Dee Weems. Dee left the office for a while and returned to it years later. Many of them were suburban housewives who had volunteered in the surplus food program. Have you talked to her?
GOLDSTEIN: There were many other staffers later on .
LANDS: I think Gracie Stone had mentioned you—
GOLDSTEIN: Yes, Gracie Stone came to the office later and may have succeeded Muriel as the office administrator. Gracie also did a wonderful job. Possibly, her son Ned, who was involved with Emmaus House, also worked there. Other later staffers included Mary Ball, who also ran the seniors’ program at the House, and whose daughter Connor became a Legal Aid attorney; Ray Maynard, from the Mennonite House; Mary Eastland; and Lewis Sinclair. Mary Eastland and Lewis worked in the office for years and became good friends with Frances Pauley. I believe that Penn Payne, who later became a successful attorney, may have volunteered there. Rae Quinelly, Margie Brown and Charlotta Norby, who lived or worked at the House, may also have volunteered at the office. Charlotta, a young woman from Denmark, later worked at Legal Aid and became an attorney who worked on death penalty issues and married Steve Bright. Steve was instrumental in leading challenges throughout the South to the death penalty. Barbara Reed there also developed an interest in children’s rights issues from her work at the Office. Have you talked to her?
LANDS: I’m trying to track her down actually.
GOLDSTEIN: Some volunteers at the Office came from the community. One was Lynell Ward, who worked there for several years and was a terrific advocate. Gene Ferguson had a male friend there whose name I don’t recall.
LANDS: So, as you’re organizing in housing, if you’re going out to Thomasville Heights and these other places, tell me what, what your approach was on the ground. You may have one contact there, but how do you go about organizing the tenants at any given place?
GOLDSTEIN: My approach was to go out and start with people that I knew in an area, from prior community work, from Emmaus House programs or from helping them with their own problem. After working at the House for two years, it seemed as if I knew someone in all of Atlanta’s low income neighborhoods. Often, I’d meet friends or relatives of people whom I knew or knew about the House. My contacts usually provided me instant credibility with the people with whom I talked.
So, for example, if people living in public housing in Thomasville Heights were already part of the Peoplestown welfare rights group , [I’d] sit down with them and talk with them about forming a welfare rights group out there. I would ask “Do you think it would work out here? Do you know any neighbors who would help form a welfare rights group here?”
After I sat down with a handful of people, we would go to their friends and neighbors and to talk about issues of common concern. If we attracted a big enough nucleus to start a group, then I’d help people draft and distribute an information leaflet to invite a larger group to attend an organizational meeting. The purpose of the meeting was for participants to air their concerns and then focus on constructive approaches to address the concerns. Some groups would eventually become more formal and elect officers; others remained more informal.
At Emmaus House, we developed this community organizing model to organize local welfare rights organizations and tenant organizations, to inform families about their right to send their kids to better schools and about voting registration and election issues. Later, I used that experience at Legal Aid, primarily in working with tenants in large apartment complexes who had community-wide grievances against their landlords. Because Legal Aid lawyers were not allowed to engage in community organizing, except for the situation at Techwood that I mentioned, I advised tenant clients who were not organized how they could organize a group. Once there was a tenant group to represent, I could more effectively negotiate with a landlord.
At Legal Aid, I trained other attorneys to represent groups with varying degrees of success.
In the 1980s, I hired Rae Quinnelly, a former Emmaus House staffer with whom I worked, to assist me with housing work at Legal Aid. We were aware that Habitat for Humanity, the organization that built houses for low income people, had been started in south Georgia, and had successfully built houses for low income families in other communities. Rae and I decided to start a Habitat chapter in Atlanta and reached out to several other people, mostly Poverty Rights Office volunteers, to help start the Atlanta Habitat chapter in Atlanta. These people included Harriet Harriot, Mary Eastland, Lewis Sinclair; Craig Taylor and Gilbert Nicholson and his wife. Gilbert and Craig were particularly helpful because of their backgrounds in housing construction. So, we started the Habitat work in Atlanta. After Jimmie and Rosalyn Carter became involved with the Atlanta Habitat group, it received widespread publicity and support, building hundreds of houses.
One of my proudest achievements was helping to address the problem of redlining by Atlanta’s banks and their failure adequately to service minority and low income neighborhoods. My Emmaus House experience was integral to this work. In the late 1980s, I was contacted by the Atlanta Housing Coalition, a non profit group addressing low income housing problems. I had previously been involved in starting this organization and helping it. The Coalition had been contacted by various people in neighborhoods that had majority populations of Afro Americans, complaining that they could not obtain mortgages and loans from local banks. Some people were referred to subsidiaries of the banks that loaned at higher interest rates even though the loan applicants had good credit. Also, the banks were beginning to close branches in Afro American neighborhoods.
Based on my experience, I helped the Coalition investigate the problem by putting it in contact with neighborhood leaders and groups in order to assess the problem on a larger scale. Some of my established community contacts told me also that the banks were beginning to close branches in neighborhoods that turned from majority white to majority black. After the Coalition determined that there was a large scale problem, it brought in Larry Keating, a Georgia Tech professor whom I knew, to advise us on how to collect and assemble relevant redlining data, Eventally, I decided to represent the Coalition and complaining residents in connection with these problems.
Initially, I filed a complaint with the Federal Reserve against Trust Company, the bank with the worst redlining record. The complain contained extensive data supporting the redlining claim showing that Trust Company was not making mortgages in Atlanta’s predominantly Afro American neighborhoods. The Federal Reserve monitored Trust Company’s activities under federal banking laws, including a law known as the Community Reinvestment Act, which required banks to serve all parts of their community, including minority and low income neighborhoods.
The Federal Reserve denied that there was any basis for the complaint and accused the Coalition and me of unfairly attacking the bank. I was stunned, later finding out that the Federal Reserve official ruling on the claim had a sweetheart loan from the bank. At this point in my career, I had learned from my Emmaus House and Legal Aid experience that the only remaining avenue for the complaint was to go to the press.
At this point, luck intervened. I decided to drop off copies of the complaint at the Atlanta Constitution, hoping to interest someone there in the story, The business writers had no interest in the complaint, as they were local bank boosters. Luckily, Bill Dedman, a new reporter whose brother was a Legal Aid attorney in Tennessee, obtained a copy of the complaint and was immediately interested in talking about it. Bill turned out to be a fantastic reporter who took the complaint and ran with it. In a nutshell, he met with the coalition to obtain investigation leads; together we met with Larry Keating to develop a team to collate and analyze the redlining data; and Bill then developed the story. The initial process took several months. After writing the story, Bill took several more months to convince the paper to run the story because the banks had gotten wind of it and lobbied against publishing it.
Bill’s articles, called the Color of Money, ran in the Atlanta Constitution for four straight days in 1988. The reaction was immediate. In spite of overwhelming data and anecdotal evidence that Atlanta’s banks collectively were redlining and otherwise not properly serving Atlanta’s minority neighborhoods, the banks vehemently denied the accusations. It seemed that redlining was the prime focus of public discussion in Atlanta for many days. When the smoke cleared, the banks did change their practices and were investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. Bill’s articles won a Pulitzer Prize, and he eventually became a nationally recognized reporter at the Washington Post.
During my later years at Legal Aid, I would usually represent tenant groups or other community groups in partnership with a younger attorney or outside parties. That way I could mentor other Legal Aid attorneys in the art of group representation. In the 1980s and 1990s, I probably worked with a dozen different Legal Aid attorneys in representing tenant groups all around the metropolitan Atlanta area. These cases usually involved complaints about poor housing conditions, abusive treatment by landlords or plans by property owners to demolish subsidized apartments and displace the tenants. We represented groups in Alpharetta; Buford; College Park; Dekalb County; East Point; Fairburn; Jonesboro; Marietta; and many of the low income neighborhoods in Atlanta, including Summerhill, Bankhead, Perry Homes, Techwood, East Lake Meadows, Capitol Homes, Grady Homes and Peoplestown.
For example, there’s a huge subsidized rental apartment complex at the corner of Ponce De Leon and Highland Avenue, the Briarcliff Apartments. It houses elderly and disabled residents. And Legal Aid received a call that they were having all sorts of repair issues. So, the attorneys at Legal Aid who handle cases for senior citizens didn’t quite know what to do. I said, well, I’ll go out there with a senior’s attorney who doesn’t have experience, and we went out. I basically went through the same process. [I] called and said, “Let’s have a little meeting,” gathered a few people up, assessed how much support there was, and then started meeting on a broader basis to get support to make some demands backed by a lot of tenants.
LANDS: So let’s say we’re at Sugar Hill. and we’re trying to get the repairs done. You’ve made contact with the tenants. What are your initial approaches to Chapman Realty? Are you letter writing? are you calling the owner? I want to know what you do before it escalates to a rent strike.
GOLDSTEIN: Oh, a rent strike is difficult to pull off and only the last step if negotiations fail. Once there is a group of tenants to represent, the first step in the process is to meet with the tenants and hear their specific complaints. And then after hearing those complaints, to look at their actual grievances (such as leaking roofs), and to photograph or otherwise document their problems. I always wanted to document to make sure that when I made demands on a landlord, the landlord couldn’t undercut the demands by showing that the tenants and I were lying or exaggerating.
Then after getting all the facts in line, a representatives from the group and I would approach either the owner or management company in a nice way—which was always more difficult in the in the early years—and ask to meet with the property owner or the owner’s representative in order to discuss the complaints. Usually, someone would meet with the group to discuss the complaints and make some effort to resolve the complaints. Because the tenant’s individual complaints were ignored but group complaints were usually addressed, I gained credibility with tenants.
LANDS: And that was sufficient in the case of Sugar Hill and Chapman Realty, is that right?
GOLDSTEIN: That’s right, although. initially, Mr. Chapman didn’t take me seriously. The Sugar Hill tenants were the first tenants whom I organized, so I was learning “by the seat of my pants” how to work with tenants. Initially, I may have met alone with Mr Chapman to outline the tenant’s grievances. Normally what I would do is [to take] a group of representative tenants, not too many, with me, because I wanted to the tenants to be part of the process. I think initially he came on as, “I’m an upstanding citizen, and these are all poor slobs. We do the best we can for them. They’re not paying much rent.” I remember that Mr. Chapman was wearing a Georgi Tech ring and was immaculately dressed. So, initially he came on very paternalistically.
I may have suggested to him that the tenants would ask the City housing code inspector to inspect apartments at Sugar Hill. In any event, Mr. Chapman agreed to come out to Sugar Hill and meet with tenants and inspect apartments. When he met with the tenants, I believe that he was surprised with the strong turn-out and the complaints. Once he saw that almost all the tenants were complaining, and that they were taking this seriously, ,he addressed their concerns enough to relieve their major problems. We had set up a procedure where if somebody had a repair issue, it would be addressed. There wasn’t any fundamental improvement in the housing because the tenants were paying $35 to $45 a month rent. But Chapman Reality took care of major problems like eliminating rats and roaches, plugging leaks and fixing doors and locks.
At Primrose Circle, the owner father and his son were stubborn and unreasonable. I think we got the group together, we attempted to meet with Winston Mosley, the son who actively managed the apartments. I remember is that he wasn’t going to do anything for the tenants and would not negotiate in good faith, and he was upset with the fact that the tenants united and were trying to assert their rights. At which point the group met and decided, at one point, they were going withhold rent, and at another point, they were going to sue over failing to repair their homes. My normal approach was to avoid litigation if we could, and just only go to litigation or some other drastic action if we couldn’t get what we wanted amicably. And I think that was, and I think that was normally the tenants’ attitude. With experience, I also learned how groups could use the media or other agencies such as city code enforcement to our advantage.
LANDS: Are the tenants just withholding rent, or are they putting their rent in escrow? I don’t if Georgia law allows that sort of thing, but do you remember?
GOLDSTEIN: Georgia law allowed tenants to withhold rent under limited circumstances. At Primrose Circle the tenants began withholding the rent on their own. If a landlord fails to repair, and that failure to repair results in lower rental value of the tenant’s dwelling, then the tenant can withhold rent equal to the loss in rental value due to the landlord’s failure to repair. The risk or danger in withholding rent is where the withheld rent exceeds the loss in rental value, the landlord can evict the tenant. Properly withholding rent required legal expertise. So, I helped the tenants estimate loss rental values in order to calculate how much rent could be safely withheld.
Normally, I would advise my tenant clients to first pursue negotiations in order to address their grievances. The Primrose landlord was so obstinate that he refused to negotiate. Thus, I filed two or three dozen lawsuits on behalf of Primrose Circle tenants seeking damages due to the landlord’s failure to repair. After the tenants had collectively withheld many thousands of dollars of rent, the landlord then filed eviction warrants. After filing the warrants, he had the right to ask that all uncontested back rent and accruing rent be paid to the Court. My recollection is that I was able to defer that issue, raising technicalities about his eviction warrant and seeking to dismiss them. I don’t believe that he was able to convince the eviction judge to order that the back rent be deposited in Court, and that the tenants eventually took all of the money that they had withheld, and returned it to themselves and moved elsewhere.
LANDS: So you’re teaching yourself all of this—the tenant organizing, the legal elements of housing and rental housing?
GOLDSTEIN: Yes. In the beginning at Emmaus House, the people leading the effort were really teaching themselves, with Austin Ford being in the forefront of learning then teaching. When I arrived there—I’m just feeling my way around—but Austin Ford had been there for more than a year and there other more experienced volunteers there, so especially the first summer, but even after that, I watched and listened to these people. Still, a lot of what I did was essentially on-the-job learning. A lot I learned from Austin Ford specifically, but a lot I then learned on my own doing my own work.
Sister Marie [Bodell] was very good at relating to people and getting things done. She had a positive attitude that inspired people and encouraged others to help with her projects, including neighborhood adults and children. I learned many skills from her in dealing with other volunteers and the children. She was not primarily an idea person. When I came, that was Austin Ford, and, to some extent, Frances Pauley. During the early years, Frances Pauley was working on school desegregation assignments with Health, Education and Welfare [HEW]. But she would come to the house, and she had ideas about welfare rights, and she was very experienced. I can remember learning, listening to her.
As I said, Austin Ford had contacts with many local Civil Rights leaders. In the summer of 1969, every couple of weeks Father Ford would schedule a community leader to speak at Emmaus House. Speakers included Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Dr. King’s successor; Hosea Williams, SCLC’s field leader; Grace Hamilton, an early African American legislator; Donald Holloway, a leading local Civil Rights attorney; and Frances Pauley. They were not only great role models but were captivating speakers who would go through their life histories. I was spellbound by their talks, especially when they recounted their early Civil Rights struggles. I learned a lot from their talks.
Frances Pauley would often visit Emmaus House and inspire its volunteers. Often, she and her husband Bill would entertain the House staff at their home. She and Austin Ford loved to share their “war stories”, and both had encyclopedic knowledge about Atlanta and its politics. I loved to hear Frances and Austin get into conversation about local history or politics because I learned so much. But, yeah, I also saw from the time I got there, I saw Austin’s learning curve going up. He was learning, and then at the same time, once I absorbed what I could absorb from him, then I’m out there learning on my own. And later trying to teach other people.
Until this interview, I hadn’t consciously thought that I had evolved into a mentor like Austin Ford and Frances Pauley. In my later years at Legal Aid, I became someone who taught and tried to inspire younger attorneys based on my experiences.
LANDS: It’s pretty amazing story. Tell me what we’ve missed about Emmaus House that you think I should know about.
GOLDSTEIN: I don’t know, I would say probably need to reflect on this conversation and see if we’ve missed anything. If you could quickly send me a list of who you’ve talked to and in major areas like poverty rights, then I could look that over and I could probably tell you anything that’s been missed in the areas I was in.
LANDS: Also, somebody mentioned that you were integral to getting the park established across Haygood. You mentioned it earlier in the conversation.
GOLDSTEIN: Yeah, that was one of the first things I did. As I said, during my first summer there I accompanied local children to the play space near Emmaus House and organized recreational games or participated in basketball games already going on at the park. Gene Ferguson and kids that I already knew introduced me to others on the playground, so eventually I was familiar with just about everyone who played or hung at there. I was astounded that this so-called City park had so few improvements and was in such poor shape, with more broken glass then grass there. There wasn’t even lawn on the playground, and there was no play equipment for smaller children. The basketball courts had dirt surfaces and were unpaved. In short, the city provided recreation space but didn’t develop it or maintain it.
After I got to know the boys on the playground, Gene and I met with many of them about their interest in trying to improve conditions at the play lot. I asked, “Have you guys ever tried to get better facilities here?” And they said, “no.” So, I suggested that a group go to City Hall and complain and, with Gene’s help, organized a few dozen teenagers who used the playground. We went down and met with a City of Atlanta recreation official. Within a year or so, the City, possibly using Model Cities money, substantially improved the play lot and turned it into a true recreation area. They constructed nice basketball courts, put a lawn there and installed a small swimming pool. And at some point after that, they installed a sign naming it Four Corners, which was my nickname in the neighborhood.
LANDS: Why were you nicknamed Four Corners, if you don’t mind my asking?
GOLDSTEIN: I have two theories about that. One theory: during my first summer, there was a dance called the Four Corners. So I would tell the kids, all the kids, that I could do the four corners dance. The kids would ask me “You do the four corners?” I would say, “yeah, I do the four corners.” So they named me Four Corners. The other theory was that some of the kids thought I had a square shaped head, and maybe they thought that it was shaped with four corners. A lot of the kids didn’t know my real name. They’d come up to other volunteers at Emmaus House, and they’d say, “Where’s Four Corners?” Even some of the adults in the community called me that.
LANDS: That’s a great story.
GOLDSTEIN: I’m surprised Gene didn’t tell you that. I liked my nickname and viewed it as a form of community acceptance of me. In turn, I appreciated the opportunities that Austin Ford offered me and other volunteers. When I arrived at Emmaus House, I said, “What do you want me to do?” And Father Ford replied, “Look just look at the needs in the neighborhood. They’re overwhelming.” I think in the beginning he said, “you’re gonna work on this and this and this, but then if you have other free time, develop your own program. Figure out something to do for the community.” I became a self starter. That didn’t work for a lot of people, but for me it was a great opportunity. So an early example of that was with the kids—let’s figure out how to get a better playground.
LANDS: People have implied they had a lot of latitude to develop programs as they wanted, but I didn’t realize that that was directly encouraged by Father Ford.
GOLDSTEIN: In his own way, Father Ford encouraged and inspired others. I thought Austin Ford was a genius. He had a creative mind, and his sense of social injustice drove him to develop insightful and practical responses to injustice. Sometimes, he was demanding and impatient. He had a very private side to him. As the demands at the House grew, some later staff thought that he became more aloof from volunteers at Emmaus House. As you probably have heard, he loved to garden and often relaxed by developing beautiful gardens and maintaining them around the house.
Father Ford also had high standards and expectations for volunteers, especially the full-time staffers. For example, staffers living at the House were expected to work at night because of community meetings or programs. When I was there, some of his less positive qualities affected people more than his immensely redeeming qualities. Other volunteers appreciated the opportunities that Emmaus House provided. I learned a tremendous amount from Father Ford. and considered him the heart and soul of the House. I think that Emmaus House reached its zenith was when he was at his productive best—in the first few years from 1968 to 1972. During that time, he also recruited some energetic, creative and enterprising volunteers there. In the earlier years, he eat some dinners with the in house staff and led interesting discussions. As I said earlier, he also introduced us to many other inspiring leaders such as David Abernathy, Grace Hamilton and Frances Pauley. And many of the enterprising staffers inspired each other.
Father Ford was adept in coming up with great ideas, but he relied on other people, to implement those ideas, often under his direction and control. Some volunteers were not comfortable with his aloofness and the degree of his control over activities. I saw the House not only a great training ground and a great opportunity, almost unique opportunity, for the, dozens of if not hundreds of people. . . . It gave us the opportunity to get right into the middle of a poor African America neighborhood, learn about it, meet people and do something, and build capacity for them to do something. I give Austin Ford credit for providing a direction to my life, educating me about injustice and providing me many of the initial organizing and advocacy skills which I later refined at Legal Aid.
Some outsiders were opposed to Father Ford’s work. I have already mentioned the opposition in the white community to Emmaus House’s participation in integrating Atlanta’s public schools. That’s just one example of local outrage with the House’s publicized tactics. There was also continuous anger over the House and Father Ford’s participation in picketing events, and legal and other challenges to the status quo. By and large, Father Ford, not any of the other staffers or volunteers, received the brunt of this anger. He truly earned his reputation as the conscience of Atlanta.
Also, the Afro American community was not uniformly in support of Emmaus House. You’ve probably heard the stories about, from time to time in the early years, when black leaders would come to Emmaus House and demand that Father Ford turn it over to black leadership.
LANDS: No I have not heard that story.
GOLDSTEIN: There was a community center in Summerville, a neighborhood near the stadium that had black leadership, and the leadership believed in black control And I remember, when I was at Emmaus House, they came over to talk with Austin Ford a couple of times, to confront him and to say, “what are you doing down here? Black people should be leading their own people.” Reverend Ford would half joke and say, “look, if you want to take it over, take it over.” Nobody took it over.
I just saw it as a great opportunity and learning experience. And then, it was not for everybody. Again, there were volunteers who we’d get for the summer and you’d be put into a job where you wouldn’t have to be a self starter. But for people there on a long range basis, you needed to be a self starter.
LANDS: Listen I won’t take anymore of your time today. We’re coming up on two hours. I really appreciate you giving me this time.
GOLDSTEIN: Thank you, thanks for the opportunity to reminisce.
Interview with: Dennis Goldstein
Interviewed by: LeeAnn Lands
Location: by Skype
Date: 31 July 2009
Transcribed by: Janet McGovern
Sound Recordings: WAV
Edited by: Gwendelyn Ballew/LeeAnn Lands/Dennis Goldstein