GRACE STONE: My name is Grace Stone, and we have been connected—our family has been connected with Emmaus House since—my son says 1969. I think it might have been January of 1970. We had all just come back from a year in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where my husband had been teaching, and we decided to change churches from the rather conservative one that we had been going to. We are, every Sunday, Episcopalians. And we started going to church at Emmaus House. And in those days, there was no chapel. It was just in a room, and there was an altar, and it had already developed from just people sitting around the coffee table in the house, having a service, because Austin [Ford], when he went down there, was not determined to start a church; he was determined to respond to whatever needs the community had. And he and two Roman Catholic nuns—one of whom I knew and one I didn’t know; Sister Marie [Bodell] is the one who’s still alive—were down there, and the people began asking for a church service on Sunday, so they began to oblige. And, although Catholics and Episcopalians were not completely in communion in those days, there was no problem for Sister Marie.
We went down there because we knew of Austin in St. Bartholomew’s, and we knew that he was very involved in civil rights, that he’d been down to Unadilla for the marches, and he’d been involved in Albany, and he’d been involved with Frances Pauley and the Georgia Council [on Human Relations]. I can’t remember what it was—but it was a civil rights organization back in the 1950s. We had arrived here in Atlanta in the 1960s.
But I had been involved in Druid Hills with civil rights things, and I had been involved with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, which was the one integrated women’s organization, I think, in Atlanta then. And it was mainly people like Ruth Boozer, and — faculty wives — Marlyn Lester and Kit Beardsley — faculty wives here at Emory — and faculty wives – [Benjamin] Mays’ wife Sadie Mays — over at Atlanta University.
But, of course, in the early sixties, we couldn’t ever have lunch together out anywhere, because you couldn’t have an integrated group, so it was a big day when we could have lunch at—I guess it was Rich’s [Department Store] together, black and white together. So I had been involved in this, but not as intimately as I became at Emmaus House. And Muriel Lokey, who was so important to Emmaus House because she’s the one who corralled volunteers. Austin—when I talked to him recently — Austin said the reason Emmaus House was founded was to implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which I think is a very good basis for Emmaus House.
But he also felt very strongly that black people and white people didn’t know each other, and he was very hopeful that white—particularly women but men too—would come to Emmaus House and get involved with projects with black people and that we would be able to be friends and to socialize in ways that were really not possible in Atlanta in the sixties and early seventies.
So Muriel Lokey recruited me to deliver surplus food, because Georgia would not have food stamps—that was “coddling” poor people—so we had government surplus food, and the place where you went to pick it up was off any bus line (on purpose we all felt). They had plenty of boxes, but we had to bring our own boxes or they wouldn’t give us food. And, of course, there were people who were paying for taxi rides to go there to pick up the food when they didn’t have money for anything else.
So a man came by Emmaus House one day—I think Ned was there—and Austin said, “What can we do for you?” He said, “Somebody could go take me to pick up my surplus food.” So we had a whole program of getting surplus food. And it was not the nicest job in the world because it was over at an old warehouse, and you had to bring your own boxes, and you had to stand in line to submit a card for the recipient, and then you had to put your boxes on a roller. And there were great piles of boxes of canned peaches and grits and oatmeal and flour and all these things. And the people who handed them out to you were all county prisoners, and the guards sat up on the top of the pile of boxes, with their guns cocked. And so it was quite a revelation for some of the people who went to pick this up.
And it would be hot, and the women where you showed your card would be under air conditioning, but not you. And the prisoners would ask for cigarettes and things like that, and the guards didn’t really taunt us verbally, but they certainly did in their body language. It was not a pleasant task.
Then we had to carry these heavy boxes of stuff that often were not really what these people would eat. For instance, they gave oatmeal here in Georgia, and they sent grits to Colorado and things like that. And then we had to deliver them to the families.
I was very lucky because I was assigned to go with Mrs. Jackson, who lived over on Primrose Circle, which was a horrible place in Peoplestown in those days. Oh, it smelled so bad. And the rent was, like, twenty dollars a week, and Mrs. Jackson—in the winter she had to keep the gas on high because her neighbors had stolen her blankets. But she was a very nice woman, and she had the cutest son, named Frederick. And Mrs. Jackson and Frederick and I would go and pick up her food and food for other people. So it was a real benefit for me to be able to go with Mrs. Jackson. Now, a lot of the recipients didn’t really want to go with a white lady, but she was very open and easy about it.
I got to know Primrose Circle from her. One day when we were there, a man and a woman were fighting each other with broken syrup bottles that came from the surplus food. And [chuckles] there was a wonderful lady there, whose name was Mrs. Oneety Moore. [Laughs.] She was—who knows how old she was, and her teeth were rotted off right to the gums, and she had the most infectious grin, and she had a boarder (and nobody asked too much about the boarder). But she looked at me one day. Her hair was done up in pigtails, and she looked at me one day, and she said, “I knows how to talk to white people, and I knows how to talk to black people.” And she did. And she was involved in Emmaus House, and when she died, she left Emmaus House five hundred dollars, I think. Ned might be able to tell you, because I wasn’t at Emmaus House when she died. But Mrs. Oneety Moore and Mrs. Jackson—they were just neat ladies. And so that’s—you talk about the benefit that we get—the benefit that we got from being in contact with these people that we never would have met if it hadn’t been for Emmaus House. And so that’s how I got started there.
Then Muriel I think again asked me if I would be interested in this new project that they were starting, which was going to be the Poverty Rights Office. This was partly the inspiration from the Welfare Rights Organization headed by the wonderful and inimitable Mrs. [Ethel Mae] Mathews. What happened was that, as I remember the story, Austin or somebody—it might have been a woman named Petie Cayson, who was not there very long. But somebody persuaded the Welfare Department to put in, with one of the welfare checks, a statement from Emmaus House saying to them, in effect: If you have trouble with the Welfare Department, if you need help with something, just here’s our telephone number. Call us up, and we’ll see what we can do to help you.
And the response was immediate that month. I didn’t know anything about the welfare system or about Social Security or about evictions or anything like that. But a woman named Ann Sapp, who may still be here in Atlanta—Dee Weems would know—had been a caseworker, and she gave us a single sheet of paper with some of the basic facts of welfare. I don’t think she taught us before that to work a welfare budget, but we learned to work welfare budgets, and that’s where our power came from later.
But that first morning, I was there alone with [chuckles] one sheet of paper and a telephone that rang off the hook. You never knew what kind of a problem would come up. I mean, it could be anything. You know, things did settle down more or less into a pattern, but one of my earliest calls I’ve never forgotten was a man called up, and he was having trouble with vocational rehab. The counselor in voc rehab was not helping him. And so I called the counselor in voc rehab, and I said, “This is Grace Stone”—probably I called myself Gracie then—“Gracie Stone from the Poverty Rights Office.” He said, “Poverty Rights? You mean poor people have more rights than we do?” And I said, “No. I mean, poor people have the same rights that we do. They just don’t always know it.” His response was, “let’s keep them ignorant.” Well, you know, that didn’t go over [chuckles] very well. But that was the kind of attitude—caseworkers were generally, in the early days, were generally hostile.
Very often, our clients couldn’t really talk to them using the same kinds of language, although in those days, most black people knew and understood that if they were going to talk to white people, they had to talk like Mrs. Oneety Moore. Why? Because white people wouldn’t understand them otherwise. And so when they talked to each other, very often I couldn’t understand. And I know this is something that goes way back to slave days. But when they talked to me, they were basically bilingual. And so it just kind of mushroomed from there.
One of the things that we did that nobody else around town did was that we looked at the Welfare Manual because we had this contact—she wasn’t in the Welfare Department anymore — but they sent the Welfare Manual, and they sent us the updates. And one of my jobs was to keep the Welfare Manual up to date. And this is where our power came from, our bureaucratic power. But if we could call a caseworker and say, “Well, if you will look on page X and see why, I think you’ll find that you have perhaps made a mistake.” We did this with Welfare, and we did it with Social Security. [Laughs.]
Social Security had local offices with local telephone numbers, and they got so upset that we would call them and waste their time by challenging them on some of the decisions that they would make that they would change their telephone numbers. But what they didn’t know was that we had a mole, and every time they changed the telephone number, we got the new telephone number. Social Security—I don’t know whether Welfare ever did—but Social Security became very aware [chuckles] of our power, because we would call them up and challenge them, and we could get through. Of course, now you can’t get through. They make sure.
Dee Weems was very involved in the more personal problems with people. Not that I wasn’t involved with people personally, but Dee would go to people’s houses and talk with them. She has her own way, and mine was more—legalistic? I don’t know. But the problem was that poor people were powerless because they couldn’t, by themselves, push the system. And what we did, those of us who liked to push the system—we pushed the system, and the system had to move a little. The Poverty Rights Office—we were different personalities, and we handled things differently.
Muriel kept us all going. We didn’t have computers, of course. We had those cards that you push a prong through and things dropped down. It was something that—especially toward the end, the cases that I had—we each worked a day. The cases that I had, I would take home because you couldn’t always call the various offices.
But one rather typical case of what we were up to was a man who came in, and he couldn’t get Social Security disability, and he was missing a leg because he was diabetic. And they said that he wasn’t disabled, and he’d gone down to Grady [Memorial Hospital] and tried to get a job pushing a floor cleaner, because that way, with only one leg, he could move around and do it. But they wouldn’t hire him. And so we got on the case, the Poverty Rights Office, and I went with him and sat in the welfare office because they needed to see him, and he was pretty nervous. He didn’t really want to stay. And they kept us there a long time, but I just sat there with him, and finally they saw us. And then finally they discovered that they hadn’t looked at all his papers. They didn’t know he was diabetic. They had said before that he was dirty and that’s why his stump festered and that’s why he couldn’t use it. When they finally put it all together that he was diabetic, of course then he got his disability. And the woman who had been supporting him for a year or so only had $120 or something like that in her income, so he was able—when he got his lump-sum payment, he was able to help her out, because her health had deteriorated too. But that’s the kind of issue that just happened all the time.
LANDS: How did you know to use or even get the welfare handbook? Ann Sapp had given you the one-page sheet, but how did you know to go on and get—
STONE: I don’t quite remember. I don’t remember whether we asked for it and were given it or whether Ann Sapp had—probably Ann Sapp or another woman named Barbara Reed, who was a high school teacher—and Barbara is still around, and she might be somebody you’d like to talk to. Somehow we got them to give us the manual. I don’t know that they’d ever give you the manual now. When I asked, when I was doing the same sort of work in Maine, before we retired back down here, they didn’t want to give us a manual. I was working for United Way, and they wouldn’t give United Way a manual. It’s too dangerous, because they change the rules all the time, and caseworkers are not paid enough to know all the rules, even if they wanted to, and most of them don’t. In those days, many of them didn’t want to. They were overburdened and overworked, and so there was a lot of anti-caseworker feeling. And some of it, I know, was deserved. But some of it was just an impossible situation, because the welfare grants in those days was ninety-nine dollars for a woman with one child, and it went on up from that. They had a basic standard of need that didn’t include any of the normal things that you would—you know, they said, “Oh, yes, rent and”—but they didn’t include clothing; they didn’t include school expenses; they didn’t include anything. The welfare grants were so low.
SSI [Supplemental Security Income] came in while were at the Poverty Rights Office. That was a funny one, too, because a guy named “Buzz” Jacobs—I think he’s out in California; he’s a lawyer now—and I were invited to go to talk to the Regional Directors of Social Security meeting in Atlanta. This was because I had met the Social Security director in Atlanta at the church we’d gone to before. And Carl asked Buzz and me to go to—I can’t remember exactly what date this would have been—to go and talk and tell the regional directors how they could get in touch with people who would be eligible for SSI so that the SSI program would be populated at the beginning.
We told them, “you know, you have to hire people to go door to door. You cannot do it by telephone. You cannot do it by letter. You’ve got to get into the community. You’ve got to build up trust. These people don’t trust you, with very good reason,” and this sort of thing. And finally, as we were going out—these people had come all over from the South to Atlanta to talk to Buzz Jacobs and me about outreach to SSI people. Hopefully there was something else on the agenda. And as we were going out, I said to Carl—I said, “Carl! You know who these people are who are getting that low Social Security. It’s in your computers.” He said, “We’re not allowed to use the computers.”
And evidently [then HEW Secretary] Caspar [W.] Weinberger had gotten called on the carpet because SSI had started—this is the story, anyway; it’s a good one—SSI had started, and it had all these administrators and no population receiving it. And the reason it did was because Caspar Weinberger had said, “You can’t use your computers to identify the people who would be eligible,” because if your Social Security was small enough, you would be eligible. I never really liked Caspar Weinberger after that.
LANDS: Who did SSI encompass when it first started?
STONE: People who had no Social Security or people whose Social Security was so limited—like, your SSI grant was, in those days—Dee might remember—three hundred and fifty dollars, something like that. And I can’t remember just how low down you had to be to receive SSI at all. You either had to have no Social Security or a tiny amount, and I think you’d have to look up—I don’t know whether a computer would tell you nowadays. Dee, as I say, might remember. Because in those days, I worked on Social Security cases and welfare cases. Now Dee works on Social Security disability cases almost entirely. But in those days, you couldn’t get Social Security disability in less than a year unless it was something amazing, unless maybe you were in a coma. But they were so careful to keep people from getting it. And they still are, pretty much, I think.
LANDS: So is the Poverty Rights Office also lobbying, like the welfare rights group is?
STONE: Yes and no. They were starting more to lobby. Frances Pauley, who wasn’t really involved in Emmaus House after she and Austin came a cropper—which was very sad, and none of us ever really understood why—but she was the head of what was called the Georgia Poverty Rights, and she went to the legislature, and she and the Poverty Rights Office worked hand in glove, and this was just starting—see, we left Atlanta in 1976, and this was just starting. Frances, she put lobbyists at the statehouse. We called people up, and jumped up and down and demonstrated, but we weren’t as organized politically as she and the Georgia Poverty Rights, which lasted quite a long time. It was parallel to Emmaus House, but about that time, she and Austin just had a falling out, which was very sad.
LANDS: So you’re working the Social Security and the welfare caseloads all the way up to 1976—
LANDS: —when you leave.
STONE: From when the PRO started. And we also put out, of course, the Poor People’s Newspaper, and for a while I was editor of that. And we’d get—Barbara Reed and I and a couple of other people would get together once a month. The most important thing in the Poor People’s Newspaper was articles like “How to Get SSI” or “Don’t Give Up When You Can’t Get Social Security Disability” or “Let Us Work Your Budget So They Won’t Cheat You for Food Stamps or for Welfare.” There were articles like that. But the back page was always Mrs. Mathews. And it was always the same message, and it was always upbeat, and it was always, “We’ll work together” and “We’ll get there” and “The Lord is good to me, and I’m gonna do his work.” All the people who took—and we had—the circulation of the Poor People’s Newspaper was, I don’t know, pretty big at some point. But that’s the first thing that any of the people who called—“Oh, that Mrs. Mathews, what she told us today, she is so right.”
LANDS: So the circulation of the paper had to go beyond Peoplestown and Summerhill?
STONE: Oh, yes, yes, yes. It went to all the housing projects. One person in the housing project would get it, and then their neighbors would get it. Barbara Reed might be able to tell you. I don’t know whether Dee Weems could tell you how big the circulation was. And it was going on even after I left in 1976. I don’t know when it stopped.
LANDS: And Poverty Rights is serving a larger population than just the neighborhood.
STONE: Oh, yes, always did.
LANDS: Anyone who called?
STONE: Anyone who called, yes. Oh, yes. No legal aid, financial [requirements]. Nothing. Anybody who called. The whole point of the Poverty Rights Office was a person would call, and we would believe them. And, now, sometimes they didn’t tell us exactly what was going on [chuckles], like that person—a person named Smith, who was I think a man, would disguise his voice as a woman, and I think most all of us got a hoax call from him, and he was so persuasive. He persuaded me one day that Grady had sent a premature baby home in an electric incubator, and the power had been cut off, and that’s why I had to go to the power company [laughs] and—you know. And we always fell for it, but he’d be a different character with a different problem, and—I mean, it wasn’t common, but Dee would remember him. He was amazing. But our issue was, you know, these people are not believed by the bureaucrats they talk to. We believe them until we’re proved wrong.
But it was always bigger than Peoplestown, yes.
LANDS: This is off the subject, but you mentioned Primrose Circle, and I remember reading that Primrose Circle had a tenants strike at some point. Do you remember that at all?
STONE: Ask Columbus [Ward].
LANDS: It’s interesting that you brought up—
STONE: Yes. No, it was a horrible place. There were three or four rooms—it was heated by an open gas stove with no barricade around it, and you had to pay by the week. But Columbus and maybe Gene Ferguson, although I don’t know exactly when Gene left, but Columbus would absolutely know about issues like that and be able to tell you. If it had happened before 1976, I would have known it and been part of it, but I don’t know. But I think I’ve heard that it happened.
LANDS: Do you remember any other tenant strikes or tenant actions like that?
STONE: Oh, there were attempts in the Atlanta Housing Authority. Again, ask Columbus and Gene, because I don’t remember any long-term or successful one, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen, because they did.
LANDS: Now, tell me, before we move you away and bring you back—tell me about the chapel, itself, in that period.
STONE: Well, the chapel, itself, in that period was held in a room in what I guess is now Ford Hall. We had Sunday services. It was a mixed congregation racially. There were quite a few white people there besides us, the Johnson family and some interracial couples. It was a fairly traditional service except we sang sixties songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and things like that. There should be an Emmaus House songbook, which is full of sixties songs that we sang. Jeanne Brown was a teenager then, and she may be able to tell you more about the music. Her mother, Johnnie Brown, who’s not well at all now, had a beautiful voice, and she sang. The rest of us were not all that great. Silva Griggs, now Silva Britt—she sang for us, and there would be apt to be, oh, twelve, fifteen, twenty people. And the Favors family came. They were from the neighborhood. And Mrs. [Margaret] Griggs came. Mrs. Griggs is still alive. I think she was the first black person on the Atlanta school board. She was Silva’s mother.
And afterwards we would gather in the living room. Mr. Ezzard was there. Mr. Ezzard was a very important person early on in Emmaus House, and he came regularly. Sometimes Mrs. Ezzard came. So it was a pretty mixed group. Now the chapel is predominantly black people. The Stone family still goes there every Sunday. Not that there aren’t white people and they’re not welcomed, but it just works out that—whereas in the old days, quite a few of the volunteers from Buckhead and places like that would come to church there. And the Lokeys came to church there sometimes.
It was a fairly traditional service. It was during a period when the Episcopal church was going through its prayer book revolution, and [chuckles] it didn’t exist at Emmaus House. We just did things the way Austin did them. And so I was a little surprised when we went to what I call a “straight” church when we moved to Iowa City, to find out that there had been this trouble because there hadn’t been any trouble at Emmaus House. Not that it was so conservative, it was just that it was itself.
This last Sunday, there were people at Emmaus House from other churches, and Claiborne [Rev. E. Claiborne Jones] said, “Now, you’ll be a little surprised. We sing”—and we always have—“We sing the creed to a tune you all have never heard, and we sing, ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ when we have the peace.” And that, some of the people know, but I didn’t realize that nobody had ever heard the tune we sing the creed to. [Chuckles.] And the music is a mixture of black and traditional Episcopal music, and Vandora [Scott] plays the piano now, and she’s wonderful. She keeps us all together.
LANDS: So from 1970 to 1976, do you remember any other programs at Emmaus House, the after-school program, the Christmas program?
STONE: Oh, yes. Mm-hm.
LANDS: What do you recall from that period?
STONE: Well, I wasn’t too involved in those things. I mean, there was the summer program, where Ned was involved with the children, and that was the first or second summer that they had the summer program. I talked with one of the teachers at the elementary school in the fall, and I said something about our summer program, and she said, “Oh,” she said, “I know which children went to that summer program. They were the ones with hope.” [Pause as she becomes emotional and then talks through tears.] It always cracks me up, that life was so bad for so many of these children at that time. They were so wild. Our son thinks that a lot of it may have been lead poisoning.
STONE: Yes. Because nobody had done anything about that, and the kids were so wild. A lot of those kids—not a lot, but a certain number of those kids—have been counselors and done things, and a lot of them have come from horrible conditions to a very middle-class existence. Ned can tell you more about them.
But other programs. There were lots of programs that were tried. At one point, we had a grocery store, and we had childcare, a daycare situation because we knew that women couldn’t work unless they had childcare.
LANDS: Now, the grocery store wasn’t just a give-away, commodities-type—
STONE: No. No, no, it was twenty-five cents. No, no, not that I remember. I don’t remember that it was. Dee might be able to tell you. I don’t think so. I think it was in the back of the Poverty Rights building.
LANDS: And the daycare doesn’t last, either?
STONE: No. A woman named Henderson ran it for quite a long time, and it fell apart. Things at Emmaus House fell apart when we were not here, and you’d have to ask people who were here when and how they fell apart. But at one point, the children’s summer program almost fell apart, and going up to Camp Mikell did, and I wasn’t here, and I don’t know what happened.
LANDS: Now, is Ned here when you go to—
STONE: Yes, for most of the time. He was in Colorado—he’d have to tell you—for maybe ten years, but for the most part, he’s been here through the thirty years that we weren’t here. We were fifteen years in Iowa and fifteen years in Maine before we came back here in 2005.
LANDS: So let’s talk about that. What sort of differences did you see when you came back, in Emmaus House and in Peoplestown?
STONE: Amazing. I mean, the Peoplestown in the 1970s was a serious slum. The houses were falling apart. One group of people I went to see were living in a house that was half burned down. There was a group of apartments that was as bad if not worse than Primrose Circle, and I think it was called Sugar Hill. There were streets that were unpaved. It wasn’t as druggy as it became during the crack period and things like that, but the average income was under $2,000 a year per family. If you go now down to the far end of Haygood, not the direction of the park but the other direction, heading towards Grant Park—I got down there once since we came back, and the last couple of blocks, it looked like the Peoplestown that I had known. The kids were playing in the street. Now, most of the streets are paved, but I took a group of city planners from Japan around Peoplestown when they came to visit Atlanta sometime in the seventies, and I took them to the unpaved streets and to Sugar Hill. They had been given the big Chamber of Commerce boost thing, and I took them there, and here were four or five packed in my little old Volvo. And they all had pictures taken in front of the slum buildings of Sugar Hill, that Emmaus House had worked very hard to get if not torn down, at least fixed up. (But Columbus, again—Columbus is the one who can tell you about these housing situations, because I would refer people to him, I guess, and the PRO, because a lot of the people’s problems, of course, were housing problems.) But these Japanese were all packed in my Volvo, and I asked them where they were going next, and they said, “To Washington, D.C. Many interesting social problems in Washington, D.C.” [Chuckles.] Because I had just shown them the seamy side of Atlanta.
But physically Peoplestown is just 180 degrees different than what it was in the 1970s. The Vanira Apartments are—I don’t know what they’re like inside, but they were broken down and dreadful. And across the street from Emmaus House, where I guess a lot of drug deals go on now—those houses are quite nice looking, and there wasn’t a decent looking house; there wasn’t a [recreation] center in Four Corners Park, and the small store down the street. The only store, which I guess still there, was the liquor store on Capitol Avenue, as it was called then. And, of course, Model Cities had just decimated that whole area as you head down Capitol Avenue or Hank Aaron [Drive], over where the stadium was. And Model Cities had tried, but they were as much part of the problem. They just weren’t really where it was at.
But, no, Peoplestown is so different now physically. You know, Hill Street—you see white people walking on the street on Hill Street and things like that. You never would have in the 1970s. Of course, it was the old stadium. It wasn’t this big monstrosity that’s there now. It’s visually very different. I’m not sure that economically it’s as different as it is visually, because Claiborne says that our area has the highest crime rate, highest child abuse and neglect rate in the city. It sure doesn’t look like that now, but she says the average income is $6,000 a year, and $2,000 a year in the 1970s and $6,000 a year now are not that different.
The kids are a lot cleaner when they come by the house. But I think there are still serious issues in the neighborhood, although they don’t show as badly.
LANDS: Now, you mentioned Model Cities and the stadium, and I don’t remember the periodization here. Were you still in Atlanta when some of the riots occurred, some of the disturbances around the housing issues and the razing of the housing in Summerhill?
STONE: No. Again, you need to talk to Columbus. Columbus was very involved in the protests against the new stadium, and Mrs. Mathews was there too, and they pushed it back, in a slightly different way. The nursing home—the Lady of Perpetual Peace or whatever it is—there’s a nursing home right there, and there’s a book that details this whole period. And, again, this is Columbus. We were not here. But he can tell you. He was heavily involved. And that was the last big demonstration that Emmaus House participated in. Emmaus House had participated in lots of demonstrations before. We took over HEW [Department of Health, Education and Welfare] once. That was fun.
LANDS: Why’d you do that?
STONE: I can’t even remember why. [Laughs.] They just needed taking over, I guess.
LANDS: Welfare gets taken by HEW for some reason. I don’t remember when it is, but the responsibility for welfare moves to that office.
STONE: I don’t know. We just marched up Peachtree Street, Mrs. Ethel Mae Mathews in the front and Gene [Ferguson] waving Mao’s little red book. I honestly can’t remember the issue; there were so many issues with HEW at that point. We got into their office, and we crowded in, and people looked scared. You know, Mrs. Mathews had a big, booming voice, and reason didn’t have to do much with Mrs. Mathews when she was on her high horse. It was amazing.
LANDS: But the protests were effective?
STONE: Are protests effective? I don’t know.
LANDS: Where they for y’all?
STONE: [Pause.] That’s really hard to say, because how much is effective? You know, how much did we change at the PRO except making people feel, as we tried every telephone call, that we were in the same boat with them, that we understood where they were coming from, and that they were not crazy, and that they were important people. But it’s kind of like working with the developmentally disabled, working with a system, because you make—not that the people I’m talking about are developmentally disabled in any way, but we did some literacy work with developmentally disabled people in Maine, and we loved it—but did we teach them to read? No. But we had a great time. They had fun. We enlarged their horizons. But we couldn’t teach them to read. Here, as far as the system is concerned, we couldn’t make big breaks in the system. And that was our goal. Our goal was: People are right, and the system is pushing them around. And so were we successful? Certainly, we made some changes, and Ethel Mae Mathews scared the tar out of the city over the new stadium, and they at least pushed it back so it didn’t decimate the nursing home. But it’s such a slow process.
I mean, Selma, the Selma march now and the Birmingham children now are icons, and they’ve made a big difference. But in those days, the difference was so small. We’re pretty hard to see.
LANDS: And certainly you helped individuals.
STONE: Oh, yes, absolutely. The work was worth doing. The kids had hope. But as far as changing the system or making it impact on somebody like our current governor [Sonny Perdue], who doesn’t want unemployed people to get unemployment insurance—you know, the mindset is so against poverty rights, still. You know, “The trouble with people who are poor is that they don’t want to work.” Like the man who had a diabetic festering stump, who tried to work and couldn’t. But they won’t hear that.
Emmaus House certainly has made some converts, and most of the people who came to the 40th anniversary were willing to talk about how important Emmaus House had been to them and their way of dealing with the world, but did we make an impression on the Atlanta Housing Authority? No, not really. But we gave them some trouble. They couldn’t get away with everything. But for somebody like Columbus, who’s spent his whole life protesting and dealing with the issues of neighborhood organization, you’d have to ask him if he thinks he’s been successful. He hasn’t quit, so he must be successful in some sense, but I don’t know.
LANDS: Let’s talk about you and your family for a minute, because you mentioned volunteering in Maine or in Iowa when you left, so it seems like you have a culture of volunteerism in your family.
LANDS: Did you volunteer before coming to Atlanta? Let’s talk about what got y’all started in that and what other sorts of things you’ve done.
STONE: Oh, a lot of it was Emmaus House. The kind of volunteering that I’ve done since being part of Emmaus House has been that kind of work in other places. And so Emmaus House has certainly—and Austin Ford’s philosophy and—we don’t talk theology very often, but his philosophy—you know, yes, there’s an enormous influence because as soon as we went to Iowa, people asked Al, “What’s your wife interested in?” And he said, “Well, my wife is interested in horses.” I was teaching kids to ride horses here. “And she’s interested in poor people.” “Oh,” they said in Iowa, “we have plenty of horses, but we don’t have any poor people.” And I said, “Just give me six months.” [Chuckles.] And I worked with Legal Services before Ronald Reagan—the PRO worked with Legal Services here very closely too, before Ronald Reagan said we couldn’t do that—so I did outreach for Legal Services in Iowa. Then I was on the Johnson County Board of Social Welfare until they kicked me off, which—I was acting in such a way that they might—because they weren’t going to pay any attention to my crazy ideas about how you treated poor people and how you listen to them and things like that. But that was kind of fun. I didn’t expect to stay on as long as I did.
And I was on the United Way board and things like that, and on HACAP [Hawkeye Community Action Program] which ran the Head Start organization. But always my focus was I’m here to tell people what poor people might tell them if they were here and get them to understand that poor people are not objects that need to be “dealt with” but they’re people who need to have a part of what’s going on in the system that they’re involved in.
And then when we moved to Maine, I worked for the United Way in their information and referral office for a long time. United Way is not usually very interested in advocacy for poor people, but they were very cooperative. I managed and the people I worked with—we managed to—the people I worked with were sympathetic. We managed to make a difference in United Way policy towards issues like housing and welfare and food stamps. You know, in Maine, it’s a smaller community, and I wouldn’t say we made big changes, but we had a few——United Way would move with us in ways that a lot of others might not have moved with us.
So, yes, ever since Emmaus House I’ve considered myself not a social worker, a volunteer social worker but an advocate for poor people, and that’s strictly out of Emmaus House.
LANDS: Now, Ned clearly has adopted this framework too, maybe not an advocate for poor people but living in service.
LANDS: So how did you inculcate that?
STONE: [Chuckles.] I didn’t. Emmaus House did. He’d have to tell you, himself, if he will. But working with the Emmaus House kids—now, he works primarily with the kids, but working with the kids is what—I mean, he’s perfectly sympathetic to all the things that I do, but his own particular interest is teaching and working with a group of kids. And he’s done that from the very beginning.
LANDS: So what have we missed about Emmaus House that you think I should know?
STONE: I think that the other people that you’re going to talk to are going to overlap with what I say, but they’re going to give you quite a different picture. Austin Ford may easily give you a different picture, although I think he’d tell you that Emmaus House was started to implement the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I think that’s something. You know, we’re all full of stories and personalities. Emmaus House has always been a group of individuals, working together as much as possible, but nobody from the top down enforcing a rigid code or telling you what to do or things like that, and I think that’s important.
I think Austin felt very strongly, more so than Claiborne, probably, that Emmaus House should not take any government money or grant money because if you took that money, then you would have to do things that they would want you to do, and he wanted to do things just the way he wanted to do them and people with him doing them the way he wanted to do it. And I don’t think he would deny that for a minute. And Muriel would get very frustrated because programs would get more support if they would be in relation to charitable money or government money, but Austin didn’t want to do that. He’s very much an individual.
The whole issue of the relationship between Austin and the Study Hall is one—I wasn’t here. I don’t know. Other people can tell you. It probably was a disappointment that it didn’t work out, but it probably wasn’t going to work out. And we keep hoping, some of us, that the relationship between Emmaus House and the Study Hall will come together, but it hasn’t much. Some, but not much.
LANDS: So that’s not the same as the after-school program.
STONE: The after-school program at Emmaus House is not the same as the Study Hall program across the back lot. It’s quite different. Some people have ideas that the two could combine, but the Emmaus House ethos and the Study Hall ethos just don’t appear to be able to get it together. I don’t know the details, so I’m not going to try to give you my opinions about it, because I wasn’t here and I don’t know. But Austin, I know, started the idea of the Study Hall. And Columbus, again, could tell you more about it than I. He started the idea with high hopes, and they were dashed. And how good or bad the study hall is in the community at the moment, I have no idea.
LANDS: Well, thank you for your time today.
STONE: Well, you’re very welcome. As you can see, I like talking about Emmaus House.
Interview with: Grace Stone
Interviewed by: LeeAnn Lands
Location: Grace Stone’s home
Date: 2 March 2009
Transcribed by: Mim Eisenberg/WordCraft
Edited by: LeeAnn Lands