DIONNE BLASINGAME: Okay. Ms. Vandora Scott, thank you allowing me to interview with you today. Would you please introduce yourself?
VANDORA SCOTT: I’m Vandora Scott, pianist here at Emmaus House. I have three daughters and three grandkids. I attended Spelman as a music major. [I am] a native Atlantan.
BLASINGAME: Were you born in Peoplestown? Did you grow up here?
SCOTT: No, I wasn’t born in this community. I lived in the University Homes Housing Project, over near Fair Street. So that is where I grew up. I moved to Eastpoint–College Park–and now I’m in East Point.
BLASINGAME: Have you ever lived in this community?
SCOTT: No, never.
BLASINGAME: So what brought you to Emmaus House?
SCOTT: Well, I played for Providence Missionary Baptist Church back in the 1970s, and there was a minister’s wife, Mrs. McCall–Anna McCall, I believe–playing here for Emmaus House back in the 1980s. And she was playing every Sunday, and she wanted someone to alternate Sundays with her. So she asked me if I would come and play. So initially when I started–I think it was like June of 1985–we were alternating Sundays, and we played like that until about December. And Father [Austin] Ford asked me to start playing every week. And that’s how I came. I came through another musician.
BLASINGAME: Now, you mentioned Father Ford. So can you tell me any of your memories about Father Ford?
SCOTT: Very strict. Very [chuckles]…I can’t even describe…incredible. That’s all I can say about Father Ford. Absolutely incredible. He would come to choir rehearsals, and he was at, pretty much, every choir rehearsal we had. I think he is maybe the main reason I stayed here, because what I saw here I had never seen in a church before–the outreach, the programs that they had for different kids and the seniors. I had never seen anything [like that]. And I was so impressed with him and what was going on here.
BLASINGAME: So you said that you had never seen anything [like this] and the outreach. Can you expand on that?
SCOTT: For example, my girls were able to go to summer camp in Maine. I know the seniors took trips. They had programs for the seniors. They had arts and crafts for the seniors. At the time I was here, they were taking trips to Reidsville [State Prison], to take people to see people in prison. There were a lot of activities that we participated in, just the church members ourselves. There were Easter egg hunts. We would go to Grant Park and participate in Easter egg hunts. There was some area up in north Atlanta that he took us to. It had a cabin with a big fireplace. I can’t remember what we would go up there for, but it was just like an outing, a church outing.
BLASINGAME: Was it Camp Mikell?
SCOTT: No, that wasn’t Camp Mikell. It was another [place] not too far up in north Atlanta. I remember there were horses there. I don’t remember if the children rode the horses, but the whole church would pretty much go. And that has kind of carried on. One of my granddaughters, Jadyn, goes to Camp Mikell. So that continuity of what was happening then is still happening now. It has expanded. They have the art program. The art program wasn’t here when I first started, but now they have the art program every Saturday. So, I was just thinking to myself, “Father Ford is like the gift that keeps on giving.” What he started, it just continues.
BLASINGAME: What year exactly did you come [Emmaus House]?
SCOTT: I think it was 1985.
BLASINGAME: [In] 1985, and who was the musician before you?
SCOTT: Anna Mary McCall. She was the wife of Reverend McCall from Providence. That’s how I knew her because I had played at Providence Missionary Baptist Church on Larkin Street. They are now located in Cascade, but I knew her from Providence. And I think she just needed somebody to help her. I don’t think she wanted to do every Sunday. So we alternated. She did like the first and third [Sunday]. I did the second and fourth Sunday. And we did that from July until about December. I think it was like January of that next year, and I started playing every Sunday.
BLASINGAME: Do [the children] normally come in and take advantage of all the programs [on Sundays]?
SCOTT: Yes, yes. I think they even have activities here during the week. One thing that branched off from Emmaus House was the Study Hall. I don’t know a lot about the Study Hall, but that’s sort of like an afterschool program. And, I think there are some other things going on here during the week too. They just started a program for young mothers. So there is always something happening just about every day. See, I never saw that in the Baptist Church. Every day, there is something going on here. [At my old church, they would have services] on Sunday, and every now and then they would do something during the week. It’s not like that now, but when I was growing up I didn’t see that. So when I came here, it was like, wow! This to me is what a church should be doing–reaching out to the community.
BLASINGAME: Now you didn’t grow up in Peoplestown, but I am assuming that you are familiar with the area?
SCOTT: Somewhat. I’m not real familiar with it but, you know, I didn’t grow up here so I don’t know a lot about Peoplestown.
BLASINGAME: Do you find that the people from Peoplestown make up the majority of the congregation?
SCOTT: It’s about half and half. There are some members that, when I started here, are still here for the most part–May Helen Johnson and her family. When I first came there was a nice mixture of, maybe, people from the north side and people from this community. But as time went on, I think when Father Ford left, a lot of the people from the north tended to kind of drift away. We still have a few members, but members come and members go. But now I’m seeing members from Peoplestown coming in. I saw a bunch of children this morning that I had never seen before.
BLASINGAME: You came in the 1980s, can you think of anything with the Emmaus House being instrumental in any type of community involvement or community activism? Any project that you can think of?
SCOTT: Not so much since I have been here but prior to my coming here they were heavily involved in the civil rights activities. But that was prior to me coming here. And, that period, I don’t know much about, [but] I know Father Ford was heavily involved in the Civil Rights [Movement], and they participated in marches, [and] even [were] locked up. But not a whole lot of that since 1985. But I know they’ve been still participating in things. I don’t know what all has really happened here in the community because I don’t live here. I just come in during the week and play, but I’m not involved in [the] Peoplestown community like that.
BLASINGAME: You said that you heard stories about them being real instrumental, Father Ford, can you recall any memories or any stories that you were told?
SCOTT: There was some event (and I don’t want to give any inaccurate information), but there was some event on Capitol Avenue where there was like a riot, and I think they were involved. I know Columbus [Ward] was involved. I don’t know if Father Ford was, but I don’t remember all the details of that either. I just know that they participated in marches, and I can’t really accurately give any information on that. There is a marker outside for one of the senior citizens that participated in a lot of activities–Ms. Mathews, Ethel Mae Mathews.
BLASINGAME: The name has come up several times.
SCOTT: There was another senior citizen–this does not really have anything to do with the community so much but she started painting when she was like in her 60s or 70s. And, she became a really great folk artist–before she passed–as a result of the seniors program here. Now, they were doing a lot of arts activities. See, I don’t know a lot about the seniors program because I never participated in it. I played for their Christmas program. Usually, they have a Christmas program every year, and I play for that. But as a result of her participating in the art program, she became a famous folk artist, and that was real impressive.
BLASINGAME: Can you tell me about the Christmas programs here? Because if you have been here since 1985, you’ve been here for a very long time.
SCOTT: Right. Well, seniors just come together and they have dinner and they sing songs. When they first started out I think it was in this room, but now they hold it over in the Study Hall. And, it’s real festive. After we play a little Christmas music, they eat. They give out prizes. Practically everybody gets a prize, and then they actually dance. By that time, I’m leaving because I have to go to work. But they actually have a DJ, and they party. So, it’s real nice.
BLASINGAME: The children [do] they come to the afterschool programs, but you’re not really involved in that?
BLASINGAME: Okay. What about the Poverty Rights Office?
SCOTT: Poverty Rights, I don’t really know a lot about the Poverty Rights because I’ve never really participated in that either. But I know they do a lot good outreach work. I know they help with people getting their social security [cards] and id’s. You know, I never really participated in the Poverty Rights, but I know they do a lot of good things. They mention certain things that they are doing in church from time to time. But, I couldn’t give accurate information about that either.
BLASINGAME: Can you think of anything that no one else knows or that needs to be recorded–a history that combines the Emmaus House with Peoplestown? Anything that you can think of–the Emmaus House, how it has affected the Peoplestown community?
SCOTT: To me, Emmaus House is like an oasis in the desert. That’s how I see Emmaus House in this community. If it wasn’t for Emmaus House, I don’t know what it would be like. For years, before I came here, I used to drive by and I would see the buildings and I never knew what it was. I never even tried to find out. It was only until Anna Mary McCall invited me to come here, but, even as I would drive by, I was impressed because it just stood out. But, I would say it is definitely an oasis. It is like a place of refuge that people can come to if they want. It is just here. It is just here and available.
BLASINGAME: Now, did you know or know of the Peoplestown area before you actually came here to play at the Emmaus House Chapel?
SCOTT: Not really. I had a friend that lived in this community; and, I would visit from time to time, but I never really knew that much about the community. I was more from the west side of town. So I didn’t venture over into this area too much. So, no I didn’t really know a whole lot about the community.
BLASINGAME: When you came to visit your friend, do you remember what Peoplestown looked like back then versus what is looks like now?
SCOTT: It’s kind of hard to say.
BLASINGAME: The housing, the streets?
SCOTT: It looks to me [that] things tended to look different back then. Some things tended to run down over the years. But this place is going through gentrification, and houses are being built back up. But, I would say, that at one time, I guess it looked better. Not better, but you could see that people had pride in taking care of things. But over the years, it’s kind of tended to run down–certain areas, not everywhere, but certain areas. But then that’s changing too. Because a lot of the houses I think were empty, but, now, people are coming back in. I don’t know the [community] all that well, but it was just a couple of streets that I would go through.
BLASINGAME: Okay. One part of this project is really talking about the social activism that took place around the stadium. Do you remember anything about the stadium and Peoplestown and Emmaus House and their activities?
SCOTT: No, I wasn’t here when they built the original stadium, but I think there were protests and things going on at that time. There was a little opposition when they rebuilt the stadium, but I wasn’t involved in that either. I’ve never really been involved in any of the protest activities. A lot of that happened before I got here, and things kind of mellowed out I guess. I don’t see the kind of activism here now that I think was going on when Father Ford was here. But that was kind of a different time than it is now. Segregation was really rampant then, and there was that transitional period. But they were really heavily involved. Now that things appear to have changed, I don’t see that kind of activism. It’s more helping people to develop and grow, to develop their skills and abilities.
BLASINGAME: I’m trying to think. Can you think back on Mrs. Johnson?
SCOTT: May Helen.
BLASINGAME: I’m sorry, Mrs. Brown. She was the pianist before you actually…
SCOTT: When I got here, I don’t think she was here. Anna Mary McCall was here. I don’t know what happened there, but I met Ms. Brown after I started playing here. She would come here occasionally, and she was very supportive and very helpful. And I was little disappointed when she got sick and wasn’t able to get out as much, but she was here quite often.
BLASINGAME: So you’ve talked about Father Ford, is there anything else that you can mention that about Father Ford? Because before he retired, how many years were you here before he actually retired?
SCOTT: I can’t even remember when he retired. It’s been about 10 or 12 years now, but I was here with him since 1985. I guess it has been 25. I have been here for 10 since [he retired], and maybe 15 before he retired. So, I got to know him fairly well. I mean I guess that’s the beauty of who he is. You know, he wants things done a certain way, and perfect, pretty much. [Laughs] I feel good that he kept me around that long. That must say something about me that, you know, he was satisfied and pleased with me. That felt kind of good. But he could be difficult. There would be Sundays that I was playing and he would sing so loud. He would speed up the tempo, and I would have to keep up with him. Or, if I was playing too fast, he would slow it down. So I would have to kind of keep up with him. [Laughs] We had our moments.
BLASINGAME: I trying to think of something else to ask. You were not raised in the Peoplestown community. You really didn’t do any of the social activists’ activities at Emmaus House within the Peoplestown community. And, you said that, for you, Emmaus House is an oasis in the desert. And you really can’t give a lot of information about what Peoplestown used to look like. You said the houses used to look a little better.
SCOTT: I don’t know a lot about the people who lived here. There were a couple of members (they’ve passed now) that were around when I was here. Like Ms. Matthews is gone. I can’t remember the lady that was the painter. I cannot remember her name. And there was another couple, a lady and her brother lived over on the street, a block over. But it’s been so long, you know, when I came here it was a really vibrant [area]. There were so many people here from the community and from the north. So it was a good mixture. I had never seen black and white [together] in church, too. That was…
BLASINGAME: I was noticing that today, as far as having black, white, and brown.
SCOTT: Yes, I noticed the kids here this morning. I said, “Wow!” That’s the kind of place Emmaus House is. It’s like everybody is welcome. Anybody. You don’t have to dress a certain way. You can just come as you are. That was another thing I had never seen in a church before either. [In the] Baptist church, you dress up. To me, it’s about being who you are and being accepted as you are. And, you can come here and find out what it is you can do, you know. It’s open. I’ve seen so many people come in and get involved. People come and people go, you know. I don’t know what’s that’s about, but people come and people go. I don’t know if you’ve heard about Trish Knuckles. She was a very active member here. She was murdered. I guess maybe 10 years ago, and I think that had a profound effect on the members here. Then, Father Ford leaving and her death, it was like a real rough transition period.
BLASINGAME: Almost a turning point.
SCOTT: Yes, I mean emotionally and spiritually for us who knew her well. It took us a while to come to grips with that. I think about her often, but she was deeply involved in a lot of the projects around here – the Christmas program. Oh man, they gave gifts to about 1000 kids last year.
BLASINGAME: Last year?
SCOTT: Yes, December. Every year children come and see Santa Claus–Mr. and Mrs. Claus. They give gifts to all the children. But, I don’t know, I think somebody had given out word that they give out [free] gifts, but like a 1000 kinds showed up, somewhere in that neighborhood. And they managed to give everybody something. Trish was heavily involved in that program. So it’s just always something that they are doing for the community–always something. If you have a need, I think people in the community know that they can come to Emmaus House and get some type of help; or, if not, they can refer you to it. You can get help. That’s why I say it’s like an oasis.
It’s too bad more people don’t participate and come to the church. I think the membership dropped once Father Ford left, [and] when Trish died. It was kind of like a sad period. It really was. I think a lot of us still [are sad]. It took a while for people to get used to Father Ford not being here, because he had been here so long. But, the amazing thing is that it still continued after he left. I kind of got enamored with Father Ford. But what I learned from Father Ford is that it is not the person. You don’t come here for the minister. You come here and find what it is you [need] to do, because that’s what happened when he left. A couple of people did leave, but we realized that it’s not about him. It’s about what he set up, you know. You know what I’m trying to say?
BLASINGAME: Yes. It’s more than the human being.
SCOTT: Right. He really started something, set it up. And it’s going on. You know, and I think it will continue to go on when we are long gone. It’s a powerful program, and I am proud to be a part of it.
BLASINGAME: Now you’ve been here at Emmaus House since 1985, what has kept you here so long?
SCOTT: The people and the friendships that I have with the people here. I love music. I love music, and I play where it gives me the opportunity to use my talents. I write music. I get the opportunity to share my music here, but I think it’s the people–the spirit of the people here.
BLASINGAME: Is there anything else that you would like to say or comment on on Emmaus House?
SCOTT: That’s it. I think that’s it.
BLASINGAME: Okay, all right. Well, I thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you being willing to meet with me.
Interview with: Vandora Scott
Interviewed by: Dionne Blasingame
Location: Emmaus House
Transcribed by: Dionne Blasingame
Edited by: Dionne Blasingame/LeeAnn Lands