Jeanne Brown

LEEANN LANDS: We’re on, if you’d like to introduce yourself and tell me your history at Emmaus House.

BROWN: Well, my name is Jeanne [pronounced juh-NAY] Brown, and I went to Emmaus House in 1968. I was attending Northside High School, and my friend, Ann Lokey, and I — that was when we first met. It was at Northside. In those days, parents liked to know the parents of their children’s friends. Probably that’s true today, too. And so Muriel Lokey, Ann’s mom, called my mother, Johnnie Brown, and said, “There’s this new project from the Episcopal church, and we need volunteers, and I’m a volunteer. Would you like to come and volunteer?” And so Mother said yes.

And she worked there as a volunteer for a while, and then that next summer I was a volunteer. So it was really Muriel Lokey, God bless her, that brought us to Emmaus House.

So then the next summer — Mother had worked during that school year, during that school year of ’67-’68, I think, and then that summer, I helped with the summer program. In those days — well, we still have a summer program, but it’s a little — it’s just different, because back in the early days, there was staff, quite a number of staff that lived on campus. It was during the Vietnam War, and there were conscientious objectors, and they would get assigned to Emmaus House to do their stint. Instead of fighting, they would come and be at Emmaus House. It was a great time for us and that community to have people come and live there, and then the volunteers who lived in Atlanta to come every day, twice a week, three times a week and to help people in that community.

And I think the greatest thing about Emmaus House is you go to Emmaus House to help people, and it really is that you get the help [chuckles], that you get the help. It is amazing to me. I was just there on Sunday, so it just — every time I go to that campus, I just — I remember — I know how rich it’s going to be for me. You know, I go because it’s my mission. You know, it’s part of my mission. I want to keep it going. And so with my presence and my time, my treasures as I have them, my prayers, I show up. But the gifts are just always bigger, that I get than I give. And that’s been true forty-plus years.

So that summer that I was a volunteer with Emmaus House summer program, I taught music to the young kids. The summer program was at the Immaculate Heart of Mary out — it’s in northeast Atlanta. And it’s a Catholic church, and they allowed us to come and bring our summer program there. And we would get on the bus — you know, I was fifteen, so I’m not real sure how I got there. Maybe Mother took me to Emmaus House and I rode on the bus with the kids up there and then back and then she picked me up, because I wasn’t driving.

My friend, Carol Ann Morrison, played the guitar, and we taught the kids folksongs. “If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.” Good heavens! “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” We had people of different faiths, Christians and people who weren’t Christian, and so sometimes we would change our Christian songs to be “brothers,” you know, so that we were inclusive, even in the early seventies [laughs], before people sort of included women and non-Christians in their songs, so that “they’ll know we are brothers by our love. We are one in the spirit.” That was one of our favorite songs, which the kids loved.

And, you know, we did kid songs like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “The Hokey Pokey” and — we probably played musical chairs, you know, and we sang with them. And it was really my first teaching experience. I’d never taught before. You know, I think it really planted seeds because that’s what I do for a living now. And I’ve been doing it since that time. I’ve always found somebody to teach and somebody to teach me, as my student. You know, the student is the teacher, and the teacher is the student. Absolutely. [Laughs.] I’m very aware about how much I learn from my students.

And those kids — I mean, I guess the first — that was the first summer. The second summer, I was driving, so I was sixteen, and sometimes I would drive the kids home to the neighborhood who would have a difficult time being on the bus. That was always interesting [laughs] to do that, because here I am, I’m sixteen years old. I don’t really know that much about children other than those that are my age. I have two younger brothers, but, you know, we weren’t so rambunctious. We were pretty well mannered. But we had — we have very spirited children at Emmaus House.

But, you know, they taught me about patience and love and understanding and generosity, and they taught me — you know, the patience element, I think, is the biggest one because things don’t happen overnight. You know, they don’t happen overnight. And to be — you know, there are two sides of this: to be comfortable with how long it takes to make a difference, the fact that I may do some things and I never see the result of making a difference, but it is my part to try, to add something to the planet — you know, not to just take things from the planet but to care for the people, for people.

I always think that there are three lessons to learn, that we came here to learn how to love: to love ourselves, to love others and to love God. Everything else we do, we do while we’re learning to do that, while we’re learning to do that. And I think that that’s one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned at Emmaus House.

Sister Marie Bodell, who is still in my life — Mimi — was there and on the staff. She was the coordinator of the programs. What a person! [Laughs.] What a person! What a person! She, you know, was young and energetic and definitely committed — you know, probably over-committed, probably too intent [chuckles], if you can be too intent to help others. But all of us benefited from knowing Sister Marie. I’m so happy — you know, I mean, I still have her number on my cell phone. We talk, not as often as I should, because it helps me to talk to her, but I think of her all the time, and I know that she thinks of me. She’s retiring now to her sister’s home. You know, she’s a nun. [Laughs.] And the sisters have a home in Maryland, and she’s going to leave. Maybe she’s already left Philadelphia to go to be there. So maybe I’ll see her a little more often now. She’ll be closer.

She taught me a lot about how to be at Emmaus House, because I think that second summer that I was a volunteer, we went to Camp Mikell. We went to Camp Mikell for a week. Golly, you know, all — I mean, it’s rare — maybe it’s rare that I could say that every experience was one that I’m grateful that I had. You know, there’s never — no regrets. You know, no regrets.

My first serious boyfriend — well, I guess maybe it was my second serious boyfriend. I came home from college, and I met Peter Brigg, and we dated on and off for seven years, and he’s still in my life today. He visits our home; I visit his home. You know, these lasting relationships from Emmaus House. We were at church on Sunday, and May Helen Johnson and Columbus [Ward] were there, Ricky [Bicktrom?], Ned Stone and [his parents] Al and Gracie.

And then we had a group of people there who were visiting, because we now have this place, the Muriel Lokey Center, where people can come and live again! Which is what we had before! Which is just so great. It’s so great to open that up. And I think — you know, how many years? You know, all those years, since the early sixties, and, you know, I still get to see people that are part of that.

I talked to Austin, too. I talked to Austin. I called him. I’m a singer, and my mother played for the chapel when the chapel started. Actually, before she played I guess — we just sang songs without an instrument. And then when the chapel grew, we got a piano, and Mother started to play — I guess Austin played first, but then Mother played for twenty years in that chapel. And she was, you know, an integral part of Emmaus House. I think she was employed — I think she was not only a volunteer but she was on the staff some. When Sister Marie left, I mean, I think Mother took up some of that job, to help coordinate the staff and keep the programs running, you know, as Austin was busy, to keep us afloat [laughs] — you know, to keep us afloat, and to keep making friends, to keep making friends so that our base was wide — you know, really international —

LANDS: Mm-hm.

BROWN: — as he traveled to India and to England and to all these places, you know, that know about Emmaus House.

So I was talking about my singing somehow. Oh, singing with — Peter. Peter has stepchildren, and I sang for both the girls’ weddings — one reception and one wedding. And then now I go with my partner to Emmaus House. My children — I got married the first time there, to my kids’ dad. And it was beautiful. It was a beautiful wedding. Austin did it. And then Jeannie and I had a commitment ceremony where [Marian Kinauer?] and Debbie Metzgar — it was before she was Debbie Shew — were the — came to our home and did the commitment ceremony.

And so, you know, I don’t think there’s a piece of cloth where there’s not a thread of Emmaus House, threads from Emmaus House. [Laughs.] Everything. My children were baptized there.

My grandparents, John and Esther Alexander, did the Bible study for the seniors, which is a wonderful thing. Of course, they probably were older than the seniors. [Laughs.] But they went maybe twice a week, and they had Bible study. My grandparents were great teachers, great teachers. My grandfather was principal of a high school in this little tiny town in Texas, and my grandmother was a teacher there and really sort of the assistant principal. You know, they did it together. And then when they retired in 1969, they came here, and my grandfather worked with my dad, who was a doctor, to help him with his office. And then they did volunteer work at Emmaus House. So the roots go back — you know, everybody. My brothers have, and everybody that I know. [Laughs.] Everybody that I know sort of walks through Emmaus House eventually with me. And some of them stay. Some of them stay.

LANDS: Another volunteer mentioned going to a doctor. Would it have been your father?

BROWN: It could have been.

LANDS: Yes?

BROWN: It could have been. It could have been, because Daddy did see people.

LANDS: The interns? It would have been common for the interns to go see him in the seventies.

BROWN: Oh, yes, yes, yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

LANDS: I’m sure it was the Erdmanczyks that may have mentioned it.

BROWN: Oh, yeah, yeah! Maybe Debbie and — yeah! And Tom.

LANDS: And I don’t remember the name, but Dr. Brown may well have been —

BROWN: Oh, for goodness sake! It could be. I sang at their wedding. I’m the wedding soprano, the wedding and the funeral soprano. Yes, I sang at their wedding. And they live in Roswell now.

I think Daddy did see people. I’m not sure who the doctors were. That’s not a strong memory for me. But it certainly is possible, because my father was — you know, he was a volunteer, too. I mean, he’s a giver. He was a giver, too, in his ways. He supported Mother and our work there, so it’s very possible, very possible.

LANDS: So out of this invitation from Muriel Lokey, the whole family basically becomes not just volunteers, but joins the chapel, too.

BROWN: Oh, yes, right.

LANDS: So you moved congregations?

BROWN: Well, we did. We used to have chapel early. We would have chapel at nine, I think. Austin started it because there were people on the campus, and there would be Sunday, and it wouldn’t be time for them to go to a church and then come back to go to work, because they pretty much work seven days a week. And so they would have a little chapel service at nine o’clock, and it just began to grow. It just began to grow. And then Austin moved it to ten thirty so that — you know, I guess so that people could decide where they were going to go to church. [Laughs.] Because we would go at nine o’clock, and then we would go to our other church. But then he moved it to ten thirty, and we had to decide.

Mother played at Emmaus House. When he moved it to ten thirty, I was being hired to sing at churches as a professional, so I couldn’t be there all the time. But when I left being a full-time soprano soloist, section leader at a church, then Emmaus House became my church. It became my church. So that was the late eighties. That was the late eighties. Probably more part of the chapel, since then, than a volunteer at church, at the settlement house, the activities place. [Laughs.] But always aware of what’s going on there, you know, and supportive as we can be there.

LANDS: So you did the first two summers.

BROWN: First two summers, in the late sixties. I guess I worked in the summer pretty much every summer for a while, until I got a full-time job, until I got a full-time job, so I guess I — let’s see, so maybe five or six years, maybe five or six years, until the early seventies, and then I got a full-time job. But then I would go to Emmaus House in the afternoons. I mean, I took duty. I took duty.

LANDS: You mean the desk duty?

BROWN: Oh, yes, the desk duty. [Laughs.] The desk duty, which also meant — oh, and I cooked, too! We’d have to cook for the staff. Oh, good Lord! [Laughs.] We’d have to cook for the staff, and we’d have supper. You know, we’d have supper together. You’d take desk duty, and you’d cook, and you’d sweep and dust. I would usually be evening, and so then you’d lock up. Then you’d lock up. And so — yes, I forgot I did duty. Oh, good Lord! [Laughs.] But, yes, that was great, too. That was great, too. Because then that’s when I really got to know the people, the staff people. So, you know, I really, you know, have known almost everybody that’s worked at Emmaus House all these years, because, you know, if they stayed longer than a week or two [chuckles], we would work together. We would work together. And then people come back.

LANDS: So what kind of services is Emmaus providing in that period, besides the summer program? When you’re doing the desk duty, what does that entail?

BROWN: In those days, we delivered groceries. It was before food stamps. It was before food stamps, and so we would go to the warehouse, and we would pick up groceries for people, and we would put people’s groceries in these boxes. I guess we had the list as to what they were entitled to, from the warehouse, and then we would put these boxes in our — that’s what Mother did with Muriel Lokey, and then sometimes me. Sometimes I would do it, too. I guess that’s what I would do in the summer. And then we would deliver these groceries to these people’s houses. That’s how I got to know people in the community, too, because we didn’t just drop the groceries off, we went in and sat down. [Laughs.] You know, we went in, and we sat down, and we would talk and — great. You

know, it was great.

I guess — you know, so many lessons that I continue to learn, but one of the big ones that I guess I quote the most often is that I don’t believe there’s them and us; I just believe there’s us. You know, that’s — the people in Peoplestown and Mechanicsville and, you know, people come from Griffin and LaGrange. You know, they come because there aren’t places you can go to get help like there were back then. There were lots of places then, and now there aren’t many places that you can go and say, “How do I do this? How do I apply for this job? How do I get aid for my children? What do I qualify for?”

I’m those people, too. I’m them, too. And they’re me. You know, they’re me. I mean, I think people all want and need the same thing. I’m so grateful to know that. I’m so grateful to know that. I mean, you know, it’s invaluable to me. It’s invaluable to me. And I think I have — [Chuckles.] You know, I think it’s strengthened my faith to see out of nothing what can come. [Laughs.] Out of pretty much nothing. You know, and when Austin would talk about not being able to pay — he wouldn’t talk about not being able to pay the light bill; he would just talk about how the check would come just in time to pay the light bill. I mean, that, you know — I mean, and so that really is powerful, that even when it doesn’t look like you have everything you need, it’s because you hadn’t waited long enough, you hadn’t looked enough. Because, you know, you really can. You really can if you’re open to how you receive, how you receive, always from surprising places, I think. You know, surprising places like Emmaus House.

I mean, who would think that this place that’s, you know, full of people that, you know, struggle every day — you know, struggle every day to live indoors, to feed their children, to be well, to be safe, for God’s sake, you know, in ways that I would never — I don’t really know. You know, ways I don’t really know.

LANDS: Do you mind if I ask where y’all were living, you and your mom?

BROWN: We lived in northwest Atlanta.

LANDS: Okay, so you commuted in.

BROWN: Yes.

LANDS: To volunteer.

BROWN: Right, right. Lived in northwest Atlanta. Then when I married my kids’ dad, we moved to southeast Atlanta, so we were the same zip code as Emmaus House. And then my relationship that I’m in now with Jeannie, we lived in Ormewood [Park]. We lived in Ormewood, so we were just right there — you know, just right there, the same zip code, 30315, and then we moved to 30316, so we were still — and I miss that. I miss that, because then I could just go. It’s a long way from Roswell. It’s a long way from Roswell. But, you know, I will always be tied to that place — you know, always be tied to that place.

LANDS: Now, you mentioned the groceries and the fact that your mom and Muriel were involved in that. So was the Poverty Rights Office really distinct from Emmaus House, or is there an overlap?

BROWN: No, it’s part of — it’s part of it.

LANDS: Okay, so the services overlapped, staffed overlapped.

BROWN: Yes. Yes. Yes. I think Muriel must have started the Poverty Rights Office. I mean, we just — with, you know, with Ethel Mae Matthews, you know, because, I mean, Austin bought this house that was a brothel, and he had two nuns, Sister Rose and Sister Marie, and Sister Rose — you know, it was a mess. It was a mess. I mean, there were mattresses and trash and —you know. And Sister Rose would smoke this cigar to get the stench out, you know? Oh, my God! [Laughs.] And the other day, Sunday I was there, and it’s so beautiful now. They just repainted it, because I was gone this summer and not there so much, and, you know, I think, Oh, God, we’re still going! We’re still going! We’re still going! We’re cleaning up and we’re painting, and people were there in chapel, you know, and talking about the activities.

It’s just always a sigh of relief to me, because it’s — you know, it’s not easy. You know, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to — well, I guess it’s not easy to care for people, you know, whatever their circumstances are. I think the care of people, you know, is a job. It’s a job. It’s a big job, and probably the job we were sent to do. You know, we’re here to care for each other because life is so hard. Life is hard for everybody. It’s hard for everybody. Even if you’ve got enough money in the bank, you still have to live on this planet! [Laughs.] And figure things out! You know, and you need people to help you figure things out, so everybody needs that care.

I don’t know if I ever answered your questions, LeeAnn. I just talked. Oh, gosh!

We also had a store. There was a store.

LANDS: Was it for groceries?

BROWN: It was for groceries. It was groceries. I think that we never sold clothes, that we just — you know, that people would donate clothes and we would give them out through the Poverty Rights Office. But for a little while there wasn’t a grocery store that was affordable, and so — I’m not sure. I guess the food was donated, and then it was sold for ten cents or a quarter or maybe a dollar. I mean, less than — you know, just to help, because the stores in poor neighbors really charge. They charge a great premium for being there, you know. You know, probably because they have to because they get robbed a lot and their insurance is a lot, and, you know, they have to make it worth their while to be there. So we had a store for a while.

I remember getting up in the morning and going by the bank to get change because there wasn’t going to be money there. [Laughs.] And so then Mother would get change, for a twenty, I guess, so we would have change to give people if they would come in and buy. And then as soon as we had made twenty dollars, Mother would get her change back. Just crazy things you remember, as a kid.

LANDS: Mm-hm. Now, why doesn’t it last very long? Surely the need doesn’t go away.

BROWN: The store? I know! You know, it could be that the food stamps program really helped more so, that people had other resources then, other than the store that was there, that you could go to a regular store with your food stamps and buy what you needed, buy what you needed because, you know, the prices were set by the government, whatever, or the government subsidizes them, I guess. That’s what the food stamps do.

So then I guess, you know, that must have — we must have made it — and then we — so we tore down the wall, and we opened up the chapel that was in Ezzard Hall, because first it was just a little room between the store and the senior citizens room —

LANDS: Right.

BROWN: And now it’s open all the way. I mean, that was the chapel, before we bought the house, where the chapel is now. And so that’s where the store was. The store was in the front of —

LANDS: So originally Emmaus House didn’t have the building where the chapel is now?

BROWN: That’s correct. We first had one house, and then we had two, and then we had three, and now we have four. [Laughs.] Well, I guess we have five, because we built, you know — we had — the Poverty Rights Office was a house, too, so I guess that was two houses, because they’ve always been separate like that.

LANDS: And the Lokey Center is on top of what used to be the Poverty Rights Office.

BROWN: That’s the footprint, right.

LANDS: Gotcha.

BROWN: Right, right, that’s the footprint. Muriel was great. Muriel was great. I was just asking about her Sunday.

LANDS: Can you tell me about her?

BROWN: Muriel?

LANDS: Mm-hm.

BROWN: Oh, yeah, yeah! Since I’ve known her since I was in high school, so — even Ann and I, Ann Lokey and I went to the same college. We went to Wellesley together. Muriel was amazing. She was amazing, amazing strength. You know, it takes a certain amount of strength to do this work. You have to — I think you have to have some mettle inside. [Laughs.] Some mettle inside to be able to keep going back, because I’m not sure that things change that much for the people in that neighborhood. They get a little relief. They get a little relief, but, you know, some of the kids have grown up, and they’ve gone to school, and they’ve gotten good jobs, and they moved away from the neighborhood and, you know, are success stories. But the neighborhood doesn’t much change. You know, the neighborhood doesn’t much change. But you still go back to it.

So Muriel was married to a judge, [Hamilton] “Ham” Lokey, and, you know, I’m not sure that Ham thought that it was a smart thing to do [laughs] to go down to this place. But he loved his wife, and he supported her, you know, and they would come. They would come to church. Muriel was a doer. She was just a doer. She had a vision, and she had strength to believe — she believed in what she was doing. She believed in what Austin was doing. You know, that Austin is the touchstone. Austin’s the touchstone, because he had belief, and so then we believed too. And we believed, too. And we wanted to help him! We wanted to help him, because we — you know, we did. For whatever reasons, whatever our reasons were, maybe just simply because it was something we thought we could do: we could help a little. We could show up and make a meal, answer phones, carry somebody to Fulton County Health Department. Or Grady [Memorial Hospital], you know, to get seen about.

LANDS: I think that’s an interesting comment, that, you know, because Austin believed or because Muriel or Frances Pauley believed or whoever, y’all did, too. What is it about these individuals that — is it charisma?

BROWN: I think so.

LANDS: How do you —

BROWN: Yes.

LANDS: — persuade people to follow this vision?

BROWN: Yeah! I do think — I think Austin — either you fall in love with him or you just hate him, you know? [Laughs.] You know? And even the people that didn’t get it, tried not to get in his way. You know, they tried not to get in his way. You know, either we really were there and we really were helping, or there were people who just didn’t stop us from doing it. [Laughs.] There were people that didn’t stop us from doing it.

It was hard on the diocese, I think, you know.

LANDS: In what ways?

BROWN: Because Austin would raise money. Austin would raise money, and it wouldn’t go through the diocese, and I think that was a problem. [Laughs.] I think that was a problem. But I’m so glad now that we have the connection. You know, we began to have the conne- — you know. Even before Austin left, we began to have the connection with the bishops. Well, we always had the bishops. Bishop [Randolph Royall] Claiborne [Jr.] would come up to Camp Mikell and do church for us.

LANDS: So he was a big advocate for Emmaus House.

BROWN: I think so, and Bishop [Emmett Jones] Sims and I think Frank [Kellogg] Allan became one, and then, you know, now [J.] Neil Alexander are such friends with Debbie, and I think he’s collegial with Claiborne. They were at the dedication for the Muriel Lokey Center.

Austin had a marvelous ability to — he would give parties. He’d give parties up in his apartment, because, you know, he lived upstairs. And they were the best parties.

LANDS: [Chuckles.]

BROWN: You know, wonderful cook. And, you know, the wine flowing, and people would just get happy. You know, they’d get happy, and he would talk to them. They would say yes. You know, it’s hard to know — and, you know, I never really thought about — “What? They sent you?” It just seemed to me that that was what we did. I mean, you just — they just said yes. I mean, people — I mean, he had his major professor at Suwanee, very close, the Joneses. And after Dr. Jones died, Mrs. Jones was someone that Austin would go and see, and I’m pretty sure she left quite a bit. I’m sure she helped a great deal to keep Emmaus House going.

His parents — I’m not sure they ever got it. I’m not sure they ever got it. They didn’t come much. I sang for both of their funerals. [Laughs.] I met them. You know, I met them the couple of times that they might have come. Austin — when he was a boy, his parents didn’t go to church, but his grandmother took him to church, and I guess that’s where he heard the call, where he heard the call. And then, you know, he became an ordained priest, and he was at St. Bartholomew’s, and then I guess he heard the call of Peoplestown, from Peoplestown. And so here we are. [Laughs.] Here we are.

You know, I think it’s — when people have fought fire like that, when they have fire like that — but it’s not the kind of fire that, you know, you want to be with them because you’re going to get something great out of it, something material, you know, a public office or job. But they have this fire, and you just want to be with them because it’s the spirit. It’s the spirit. And, you know, the spirit heals and sustains and encourages, and you feel yourself growing because you’re with this spirit. So then you want it more. You want it more! [Chuckles.] I mean, I guess that’s it, because I — you know, I guess so. None of us got rich [working for] Emmaus House! [Laughs.] That’s for sure.

But some people found — all of us, I think, found our life work. So many people found their life work: lawyers, doctors, teachers, advocates. Yes, I guess we did. [Laughs.] I guess we did. I guess we did.

LANDS: If you look at Emmaus in the time period when you’re there as a teenager and early twenties, if you look at it in a larger context, you guys are in the late sixties and the early 1970s in the rise of black nationalism and black power, and here you are, this interracial project led by a white guy. I mean, were you conscious of that at the time? What was it like?

BROWN: Hmm. Well, not so much me. I wasn’t, because my parents I think taught me to be a universal person, so I’ve always felt connected to other people, and it just didn’t ever seem like that big a deal to me, but I’m sure it is. You know, I’m sure it is a big deal, you know. But —

LANDS: But it didn’t come up in conversation, let’s say, or Austin wasn’t criticized for —

BROWN: I didn’t hear that part. I never heard that part. No, no. Maybe it did happen, but I didn’t hear that part. I mean, we just — you know, we really were brothers and sisters. You know, that’s the part I remember. [Laughs.] That’s the part I remember, is that we were — you know. And we were there to help our brothers and sisters, you know. You know, it really is the most unusual family. [Laughs.] It is a very un- — but we — you know, we’re committed. We’re committed. We are. Even if we’re far away, you know, Emmaus House is still our place, our place. Yes.

So, yes, Muriel worked very hard. Sister Marie, Nancy Beishline, Nancy Beishline.

LANDS: And what did Nancy do?

BROWN: Nancy was a volunteer, too. You know, very close to Austin. I mean, these are just Austin’s friends. I think Nancy and Ted and her family were at St. Bartholomew’s.

LANDS: Okay.

BROWN: And so when Austin came there, they began to come there, too. They began to come there, too.

LANDS: Did they have children?

BROWN: Nancy and Ted? Yes. Three. Two sons and a daughter. Yes. The older son would come to church, and Matthew would come before — Matthew’s the baby boy, and Matthew would come before he moved to California, and he comes every time he comes back. And the sister would come until she got married, and then she went with her husband and her family to another — yes. Oh, yes, that’s — yes, yes, yes, yes, sure.

LANDS: And did the kids volunteer with y’all on staff? They did?

BROWN: Yes, yes, yes. Talked to them.

LANDS: Who were other major figures in the earlier period that we’re talking about?

BROWN: Well, you know, Ethel Mae Matthews and her family. You know, Mrs. Matthews was, you know, — did you hear that story about when Austin was calling to her out the window? When he first moved there and he was getting himself settled into this house and he saw Miss Matthews walking by, he just called her. [Laughs.] And she didn’t stop. [Laughs.] She wouldn’t stop. This crazy white man hollering out the window. [Laughs.] But after the third time, she did stop, and he began to — they began to have conversation, and, you know, she began to say the things — you know, specifically what was needed in that community, and I think she was a great help to him as to the path to take.

You know, always the care of the children, always the care of the children. And how you help to care for the children is to make sure their parents have what they need to care for the children. And that’s what we still do. That’s what we still do. Always the care of the children.

So, let’s see. And Frances Pauley and Bill, her husband. And Peter Brigg, Peter Brigg. He was on the staff. You know, he was a big volunteer. He would do duty — Peter did duty for a long time. And Gene and Columbus and May Helen and the Shacklefords and the Victrims?

LANDS: The Victrims?

BROWN: Victrim.

LANDS: V-i-c?

BROWN: V-i-c-t-r-i-m, Victrim, yes. [Vicki?] was in church on Sunday. The Armours, John Armour, John Armour and all the Armour kids. The Favors were there. I don’t know — I don’t have a connection with them anymore, but they were around, the Favors family. Now, these are people in the community: the Favors, the Armours, the Shacklefords, the Victrims, the Matthews. And, you know, and then we had — you know, and then we had — I mean, Austin was friends with state representatives like Rita Sinkfield — sorry, Georganna Sinkfield. Rita is her daughter. Georganna Sinkfield and her family. Juanita Abernathy, Juanita Abernathy. That might — you know, because Mother and Juanita were friends. And I think, you know, probably the Abernathy kids, at least the girls, Juandalynn [pronounced WAHN-duh-lin] and Donzaleigh [pronounced DON-zuh-lay], probably.

The African-American people who lived outside of the community that would come to Emmaus House — we were few, for whatever reasons. You know, it didn’t happen that way so much. And people would come, but they wouldn’t stay, for whatever their reasons were. You know, the Weltners, [Charles Longstreet] “Charlie” Weltner, Charlie Weltner. I still talk to Charlie, talk to Charlie. Jeannie and I lived in New Jersey for seven years, a little more than seven years, and then Charlie moved up to Plainfield, and — so the Weltners. [Now-former wife] Betty Jean [Center]. There was a family, you know, like the Lokeys. You know, because Betty Jean was married to a judge, too, Charles Sr., and so Betty Jean came. The Morrisons, the Morrisons: Bill and — hmm, it’s in my brain. [Chuckles.] But it was their daughter, Carol Ann, who was the guitar player in the summers. Carol Ann was killed in a car accident when she was a teenager. Man, that was rough.

Well, yeah, then the deaths. Hmm, the deaths. [Chuckles.] But that’s part of it. You know, it’s part of it. When you sign on, you sign on for the whole nine yards. Everything. Everything. Everything.

LANDS: Tell me about the change you’ve seen at Emmaus House over time. You know, you’ve been involved since the very beginning.

BROWN: Well, the chapel got stronger, became its own entity in so many ways. In the beginning, we had all this staff living there, working. Lots of volunteers. And then that began to change, that we wouldn’t have so much staff because when we had the conscientious objectors, you know, they weren’t on the payroll. They were doing their — or, you know, however they do that. I didn’t really quite understand the COs, but then when the war was over, Austin had to find a salary for the people, so he didn’t have as many people on staff, living there. And then eventually we didn’t have staff living there at all.

But somehow we’ve always had enough to keep it going, you know, enough people to, you know, like Dee Weems. God bless — oh, my God! I think, Dee, are you still doing it? You are? Oh, my God! Oh, it’s so great! So great! So things just shift. We find a different way to keep Emmaus House going. First the conscientious objectors and all the Buckhead volunteers and then when that ends, money to pay a smaller staff. But we still have volunteers. Then grants for the summer program so that we could pay a director and we could pay staff to run the summer program now. I think they pay people to do that, which is great, because then we can get — you know, we can get really higher caliber teachers if we can pay them a nice salary.

I think the faces change and maybe how we go about raising funds or getting help, but I’m not sure Emmaus House changes.

LANDS: So the program and the mission have stayed fundamentally the same?

BROWN: I think yes, yes. I mean, to me, to me it has. Yes, I think so. We’re all a lot older, and we don’t see the same people all the time.

It was great, the fortieth reunion, the fortieth anniversary, because people came from everywhere, everywhere. Oh, that was a great weekend. [Laughs.] Oh, that was a great weekend. Debbie Shew I think was instrumental in getting us connected with the diocese, and she lived there. She lived there and fixed the apartment upstairs I guess until she married, and then they moved.

Marian Kinauer was — she was a deacon with us, and then she was an interim priest after Austin left. And I think Marian and her partner live in Virginia. She’s a priest at a [unclear] up there, in Lynchburg. They live in Afton, because they’re farm girls.

And now Claiborne [Jones]. You know, now Claiborne.

I don’t know how people get people to say yes, but they do, and we are so grateful. We are so grateful. The people at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church come, people from St. David’s [Episcopal Church]. Holy Innocents’ is in Sandy Springs, and St. David’s is in Roswell. You know, not only to just give money but to come down and work in the fields. [Laughs.] And in the chapel. You know, fix the kneeling benches, re-cover the kneeling benches. Good Lord! But it’s great. It’s just great. I mean, our lives really are the loaves and fishes. I mean, we just all the time, just every day loaves and fishes, because, “Gee, it doesn’t look like there’s gonna be lunch,” and then there’s lunch. [Laughs.] With some to spare for tomorrow lunch.

LANDS: You may have been around or involved, I should say, when the Study Hall began.

BROWN: Mm-hm.

LANDS: And my understanding from people is that Emmaus was involved in launching Study Hall.

BROWN: That’s correct. That’s correct.

LANDS: But I don’t really know the story behind that.

BROWN: Well, I can say what I know.

LANDS: Okay.

BROWN: Austin started the Study Hall because he felt — you know, there we are, caring for children again, giving them a place to come, away from the chaos of their lives, so that they could get their lesson, and so he built that house. And then there was a rift. Then there was a rift. I don’t remember what it was. But he stopped having anything to do with it, and it became an entity on its own.

LANDS: So it sort of spun off?

BROWN: Hmm. I know I knew the story at the time, but I don’t remember now. I just — you know. You know, it’s surely some kind of power struggle. I mean, that’s what breaks up things, some kind of power struggle. And Austin, I guess, felt that it was just better if he not be involved. And it survived. It survived. You know, it’s there. They’re thriving, I think. They’re doing fine. “The Study Hall at Emmaus House.”

LANDS: Yes, I noticed that terminology.

BROWN: Yes, yes, the Study Hall at Emmaus House.

LANDS: I was wondering about that. I think when I first started going down to Emmaus that I assumed it was all part of the Emmaus House structure — and it’s also right there [behind Emmaus House], you know.

BROWN: Yes, yes. But it’s separate now. Separate board, separate funding. You know, we would use that building sometimes. You know, even after the split there were some parties there. But, you know, I just think Austin didn’t have anything to say — any say anymore about how things were run.

LANDS: Gotcha.

BROWN: Yes, for whatever reason.

LANDS: And were you away at college when Emmaus was involved with the Model Cities activities?

BROWN: Yes. I don’t know so much about that.

LANDS: I think you may have been away at school.

BROWN: Yes. My mom — my mom might remember. Yes, yes, yes, she might remember.

LANDS: I remember stories from other staff members about being involved in some of the marches and protests on the Capitol.

BROWN: Right.

LANDS: Did you get pulled along?

BROWN: I did, I did. I used to drive some of the senior citizens in the car with the marches.

LANDS: [Chuckles.]

BROWN: That’s what I remember about them more than anything. I don’t know how I got elected to that job rather than walking, but that was my job [chuckles], to drive the senior citizens who couldn’t walk to — you know, we’d walk from Emmaus House to the Capitol or wherever we were — you know. Or sometimes we’d get on the bus and go —

LANDS: So you’d basically meet the group at the Capitol?

BROWN: Or I’d drive behind them, walking.

LANDS: Oh, yes?

BROWN: I’d drive behind them, walking, so we’d be a part of the march, too.

LANDS: Do you remember the sorts of things that you were marching for?

BROWN: Well, we — oh, gosh. When we had the lawsuit and it was Quo Vadis Armour —

LANDS: It was probably Armour versus Nix?

BROWN: Yes, right, right. And Quo Vadis was the name of the girl, the woman. She’s a woman now, one of the Armours. For poverty rights.

LANDS: And this is the Armours you just mentioned?

BROWN: Mm-hm. The poverty rights, poverty rights. Poverty rights, I think health care — you know, the same issues we work on today. Employment. [Chuckles.] Employment. The issues for the poor are always the same. To get the attention of lawmakers, you know, people who really could make a difference.

LANDS: So who mobilized the group? Who sort of organized it?

BROWN: Austin would.

LANDS: Yes?

BROWN: Yes, Austin would, [Rev. Joseph] “Joe” Boone, Joe Boone, yes.

LANDS: So Joe Boone was involved closely with Emmaus House?

BROWN: Mm-hm.

LANDS: Or —

BROWN: Mm-hm, mm-hm. Yes, yes. And his last days — well, before. When he didn’t have a church, he would come to church at the chapel in Emmaus House.

LANDS: Hmm. I’d not sure I knew that.

BROWN: Yes.

LANDS: It’s very close ties.

BROWN: Uh-huh. Oh, yes, yes, yes.

LANDS: So Austin was close to the Summit Leadership Conference that Joe Boone led?

BROWN: I think so. I think so. I think they worked together.

LANDS: Interesting how all of this —

BROWN: Yeah!

LANDS: — connects.

BROWN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

LANDS: I talked to Dennis Goldstein a few weeks ago about some of the work that he had done early in the neighborhoods and —

BROWN: Dennis is great.

LANDS: — on housing.

BROWN: Great. An advocate.

LANDS: Do you remember some of the housing that the was — I’m trying to get a sense of which places they were and what they were like. Primrose Circle was one, but there were apartments on Washington—

BROWN: Yes, yes.

LANDS: Do you remember ever seeing those at Emmaus?

BROWN: I know about them, but not the details, not so much the details. I don’t remember. But, you know, Mother might. Mother might remember that, yes, yes.

LANDS: What else do you think I should know about Emmaus that we haven’t touched on?

BROWN: Well, our name. Our name comes from the Bible. It’s the story — after the Resurrection, when they’re on the road to Emmaus, the apostles, and they don’t — the disciples — and they don’t recognize Jesus right away. But it’s the road where you do find that Christ’s spirit, no matter where you come from. You don’t have to call it that, but, you know, that’s where it comes from. That’s the seed. And to learn to look for that spirit in everybody, to give everybody an opportunity to show that spirit to you is — that’s why I think it’s called that. [Laughs.] I never really asked Austin, but I do know that that’s our favorite story when it comes around in the lectionary. [Both chuckle.]

You know, to give, you know, is — I don’t know even how to say that. I mean, to give is the greatest way to learn how to receive, maybe, because I think receiving is hard. I think receiving is hard. But if you can learn to give and you watch people receive, then it can teach. I could teach me how to receive, too, that it’s okay to get help. You know, it’s okay to have needs. It’s okay to have needs.

You know, there’s a strength, I think, that I’ve gotten from Emmaus, I continue to get from Emmaus House — you know, how it has endured. Many places, when the leader goes away, they don’t survive, and we thought that might happen to us, because, you know, we had a lot of friends, Austin’s friends, that when Austin left, they left, too. They left, too. But somehow I think that there’s a reason we’re there, and that’s how we can keep going. As long as we have a reason to be there, there will be a way to be there.

I’ve never experienced anything like it, ever. I mean, there are lots of places _ you know, there are places around the world that help the poor, but very few like this. You know, it’s really an extraordinary place. You know, how it changes lives. You really can’t come to Emmaus House without being changed. There’s something there. [Laughs.] There’s something there, going on. And nobody comes there without being changed. And I think maybe that’s why we stay connected to it, because we know it’s a good direction to go. I don’t know. Maybe. Yes. So, yes.

I wish you the best with this. I just do.

LANDS: I appreciate your time.

BROWN: It’s great. It’s just great. I just never thought that it might get written down somewhere. [Laughs.] But this is terrific. It’s terrific.

[End of interview.]


Interview with: Jeanne Brown
Interviewed by: LeeAnn Lands
Date: September 9, 2009
Interviewed at: Ms. Brown’s home
Transcribed by: Mim Eisenberg/WordCraft


This entry was posted in Case Study, Emmaus House, Historical Source, Oral History. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Jeanne Brown

  1. tamara Guilday says:

    Are you the Jeanne Brown who sang the solo part in Blessed Assurance at Dr. Frank Harrington’s funeral in 1999? If so, I still remember its beauty.

    THank you.

  2. Lucy H. Stembridge says:

    Jeanne’ Brown is my voice teacher, and someone I sincerely admire and deeply respect. She is also an incredibly wonderful spiritual inspiration, a guide – the kind that opens choices for you, but encourages you to follow your own heart as you choose.
    She is very modest in that she does not publicize or discuss her great accomplishments as a singer. This is why I Googled her name; I wanted to find out more about what she has done.
    I had no idea I’d find this. But, knowing Jeanne’, it is not surprising at all!
    Beauty from the heart sings out of her as beauty of voice.
    Thank you, Jeanne’ for all that you are, and all that you so generously give!
    -Lucy

  3. Beverly Vassar Haas says:

    I had the privilege of spending my freshman year in college next door to Claire Jeanne Brown of Atlanta: one inspiring, funny, lovely girl who lit up the room with her voice and presence. I’m sitting right now with Leah C. and Kathleen O. and we miss you! Loved reading this interview, and we’re all wishing you the best!

    Xo
    Pokey

  4. Rev. Derrick D. Henderson says:

    Nov.30,2014

    I was searching for more information on Emmaus House that I may share with my daughter and son and I started reading
    Your interview and was just over taking, I was just a little boy trying to find out what was going on. Well I found it and I own
    Some of it to you and your mother, both telling me that I could be anything or anyone I want to be. Now look at me, God has called me into ministry(26 years).

    Thanks!!

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