CLINTON DEVEAUX: My name is Clinton Deveaux. I am a municipal court judge here in Atlanta. I’ve been on the bench since January 1981, a pretty long time. I’m a member of the chapel here at Emmaus House. I’m actually the treasurer of the vestry of the chapel, and I’ve been a member of the chapel since 1984.
My first experience with Emmaus House was with the programs. I didn’t even realize there was an actual religious community here for a long time. I came to Atlanta in December 1969 to work with Andy Young in his first congressional campaign and came with Andy to visit the Welfare Rights Organization, and he was speaking to them about the campaign. In probably June of that year, of 1970, I met Ethel Mae Matthews and Austin Ford and a number of activists from those days and a number of people who were a part of Emmaus House. That’s when Ethel Mae Matthews was head of the Welfare Rights Organization. There was a community food bank that was based here then. There were, goodness, Nancy Beishline and her husband and the Lokeys, who were very active. There were a number of really wonderful people — Johnnie Brown, a woman, and her daughter, Claire Janet Brown, who were active in the music program at the chapel.
I became really close to Austin and to a lot of the work he did here. I got to know –through him and through Andy- – the ACLU because Austin was on the Board of the ACLU actually. I eventually joined the ACLU and became a member of their Board as well. I have been connected with the projects here at Emmaus House ever since the 1970s and eventually stayed in Atlanta. In the 1980s when — I’m Anglican, the British version of the Episcopalians by religious background–but when I came to Atlanta, I joined the Congregational Church because it was where Andy was. Andy is a UCC minister, and I was living in his house in his basement apartment actually, so I went to church with him and became very active in First Congregational Church, which is one of the downtown churches. Eventually, I went to law school and got married. When I was about to get divorced in 84, I came to see Austin because the minister of the First Congregational Church was in the middle of a divorce himself so, you know, I didn’t think he would be the most helpful person at that point to try to help me figure out what to do. So I talked to Austin, and Austin just was so straight forward and clear and helpful. And eventually I just got connected, came a couple of Sundays and just kept coming. I switched my membership, which the last time I had been a member of Episcopal Church was in St. Armands, New York back in the 1950s and 1960s, so I switched it from there to Emmaus House. And I have been an active member of the chapel here since 1984. So it’s a long time.
One of my fondest memories, really sort of “regular memories” is of the Christmas program. One of the traditions that Austin observed was Christmas Eve dinner for most of staff and you know some other family types. He would hold it here. He was really a gourmet cook. He was fabulous, you know, fried chicken and southern everything, and also shrimp and grits. He would do oyster stew, red cabbage with New Orleans whatever, just incredible stuff. He did a roast suckling pig once for Christmas dinner. It was always extraordinary stuff. Each of us would have an assignment. I remember the anthropologist Margaret Mead would to Christmas Eve dinner here. I mean for years she came to Christmas Eve dinner. Her assistant at the Museum of Natural History was a woman named Barbara Turnis. Barbara eventually married Alan Turnis who was the Executive Director of the Museum of Natural History. And she would come here for Christmas. Barbara and Alan still come Christmases, and Alan plays Santa Claus for the Christmas program. It’s that kind of tradition. But to see Margaret Meade — whose books I’ve read in high school and at college – here, and actually talk with her, it was pretty extraordinary. That’s the kind of place Emmaus House is, and you know it’s been that special kind of place for all those years.
I was not actively involved in the bussing issues and trying to get kids from these neighborhoods into the better public schools on the other side of town, but I was actively supporting that through the work of the ACLU. The ACLU, in fact rather than NAACP, it was the ACLU in Atlanta that did the suit to integrate the public schools in Atlanta. So I was actively involved in that way, and Austin was very committed to providing the best possible public education for all the kids in this town rather than just those who lived in the quote, unquote, better neighborhoods where they had the better schools. It has been an extraordinary place to be and to be a part of.
LEEANN LANDS: You mentioned the services here at Emmaus when you first got here in 1970. Can you talk about that? Emmaus as a service center has really evolved over time so if you could draw a picture of what it was like in the 1970s when you were here, and in context with what is going on in Atlanta?
DEVEAUX: Well, this is a neighborhood that was devastated by the building of two things: the stadium (the original Braves’ stadium), which displaced one of the few economically and racially religiously integrated neighborhoods. Where the Kentucky Fried Chicken is there was a Jewish temple. And there was another Jewish temple — I think the building still stands — but it is now used as a church down Georgia Avenue. There were a number of fairly large congregations, and the neighborhoods were economically and racially integrated. I mean, they were, and I just don’t think the state legislature knew or cared. I think the business planners, the city fathers, the commercial interest in this town didn’t realize what they were destroying — or maybe they did, but I just can’t imagine that they did — and the neighborhood really never did recover.
And it’s only in the last few years that there has been this building boom of new homes, probably fully 40 percent of which, unfortunately, are empty with this crazy banking mess of the last 15 years. I mean people went crazy investing and building. The homes built by Habitat for Humanity in this community are all occupied, but the homes built by private interests and investors and speculators are largely unsold because they really didn’t have a market. There are some homes across from the stadium that were developed much more sensibly and that, in fact, were largely occupied, but south of the stadium and across the highway from the stadium in Pittsburgh and in Mechanicsville, those new homes are largely unoccupied, and they become nuisances in a way for vandals and drug activity, and it’s tough. You know, there’s an active movement to sort of get people into these homes even if on a rental basis so that they can sustain the community rather than being liabilities to the community (because they are vacant and there’s nobody watching them or taking care of them).
The stadium was one of the things that destroyed the fabric of the neighborhood, and the other thing is the Interstate highway was built right through the middle of all of this. It split these communities apart, you know, preserving the downtown business. There wasn’t then a major downtown residential development, although there was a lot of fairly close-in neighborhoods. So, all of the highways and the stadium stuff was put on residential property — more residential than commercial property was destroyed to build those things. Emmaus House was an effort by — in some ways — was an effort by Austin to respond to the needs of the neighborhood that had been devastated by those developments. The first law firm I worked for represented a number of neighbors and tenants in this area who were affected by the Model Cities redevelopment plans that were implemented as part of the highway and stadium the development. They won that lawsuit and got terrific settlements for people here. They had not been given the appropriate and market value based relocation funding. They ended up winning that lawsuit against Model Cities.
LANDS: Can you talk about that at more, I mean, how did the neighborhood people know to even go to the law firm about that issue?
DEVEAUX: I’m not sure how they did it. The suit had been ongoing by the time I finished law school and got to the firm. I know that Archer Smith, who was a partner in that law firm, was an old friend of Austin’s, who was a member of St. Bartholomew’s. St. Bartholomew’s is the church from which Austin left. Austin had been there for years and had developed it into a really exciting and wonderful suburban congregation in DeKalb County, and Archer was an active member there. Archer and his wife lived out near Emory, I think Emory University, and I think St. Bartholomew’s may have been the closest Episcopal Church to Emory. I’m not sure, but I think it was. I know that a number of people in this community benefited directly, and I think it was Archer’s relationship to Austin that got Archer to take on the Model Cities case. King and Spalding was the big downtown law firm was on the other side of that case representing Model Cities. I knew of number of King and Spalding people, and when they lost the case to us, we sort of felt like giant killers because, I mean, Harmon and Smith (which was Archer’s firm), it was Joe Harmon and Archer Smith — was six lawyers. Two of whom were fresh out of law school. Archer did the bulk of the work on that case. You know, he worked it to death; he did what he had to do. I mean it was right for them to win it. It’s a case they definitely should not have lost.
LANDS: So is the Model Cities case related to the stadium building or are they two different things?
DEVEAUX: The Model Cities was the vehicle for responding to the needs of the people who were being displaced. That’s how I remember it, and I’m pretty sure that’s what it was.
LANDS: That’s the first stadium that’s going in Summerhill?
DEVEAUX: Yes, that’s the old Atlanta Fulton County stadium that they tore down for the Olympics. It just destroyed…
LANDS: So besides setting up programs here, Austin is really working behind the scenes as well facilitating this sort of legal work?
DEVEAUX: Absolutely. Yes.
LANDS: Can you give me other examples of that?
DEVEAUX: Austin took, you know, welfare rights protestors up to the state capitol, and they got thrown out of the gallery at the Georgia House of Representatives. I mean he organized — along with other neighborhood leadership — he organized picketing of the Family and Children Services about increasing payments to mothers on welfare. I mean Georgia’s coverage and distribution amounts were woeful. I mean, it was sad what they did back in the 70s and 80s, and he organized efforts. An awful lot of leadership grew out of those movements. These are people who remained active in this community and in these neighborhoods or in the neighborhoods they moved to when they left this community. He was really very important, both in terms of connecting to other resources like Archer and the law firm and other people and bringing those resources to these neighborhoods, but also, you know, because he knew the city. He knew how to get people on the north side, some of whom were part of St. Bartholomew’s, but also just Episcopal hierarchy and Episcopalians who were very liberal, to support the efforts in this community. And a number of law firms — including King and Spalding, and Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan had a number of very active lawyers and families that have been a part of Emmaus House – like Hamilton Lokey. You know Ham Lokey is one of the old guard lawyers of this town. He has been gone now a good ten years at least. He was you know unquestionably one of the — what do they call them?– iron horses, one of the old guard of the legal community, who really believed in an integrated city and was very aggressive at getting black kids into colleges and supporting with scholarship money — I mean a couple of folk getting into law school. Austin facilitated all of that. He connected people. He was very close to the African-American religious leadership in this town. He knew people and they knew him. They respected him; he respected them. He and Andy were really close. Andy’s late, his first wife, Jean, who passed away with cancer I guess about 15 years ago, 16 years ago, was very active in the International Year of the Child as a result of Andy being connected with the United Nations. Austin was sort of connecting cement and was you know very much involved in the leadership.
Emmaus House was what that was about. There was a food bank that was based here, the Welfare Rights program was based here, the Poverty Rights office was based here, the school programs, after-school programs, there was a daycare program here for kids. Now there is the after-school program that’s in the Study Hall — that was an offshoot that Austin developed and created a separate board for and raised the money to build the building and to create the staff and to get it running.
LANDS: You mentioned that they also facilitated local leadership. I know sort of the story of Ms. Matthews, but who else would you put in that category of people who have gone on to leading their community here and elsewhere?
DEVEAUX: Gene Ferguson who was on the staff here and has been very active in the City of Atlanta stuff since. Columbus Ward. Ernestine Burson who is the head of the Senior Strollers. I mean just, goodness.
LANDS: Is she the staff head of the Senior Strollers?
DEVEAUX: She’s within the group. Ernestine has got to be in her late 70s at least, if not her early 80s.
LANDS: So, it sounds like in the early days, particularly with the Poverty Rights Office, there was a lot of activity towards influencing policy. It is my understanding that they don’t do so much of that work now, that a lot of service delivery and after-school programs, Christmas programs, sort of dominate the organization now. When did you move away from policy and move towards service delivery?
DEVEAUX: I’m not sure that we’ve. . . well it’s yes and no. There’s a move away from it. I mean Columbus Ward remains very actively involved in all kinds of policy stuff, where Emmaus House programmatically is connected with all kinds of coalitions that meet around neighborhood issues. Neighborhood planning units, which were not here in the 70s but are here now, are a more direct vehicle for that kind of stuff to happen, for neighbors and members of the community to influence city policy around development and around services and around responding to neighborhood needs so that a lot has changed for the better. Leadership that was here in many of these organizations are now a part of the neighborhood planning units, and the neighborhood groups, and the south side comprehensive health care stuff, all of which were not here initially, or have really expanded to more directly meet the needs of the community.
Oh goodness, Douglas Dean who was a member of the legislature was very actively involved here. Georgiana Sinkfield, who is a member of the legislature from representing an area south of here, was very active here in Emmaus House. Her husband, Richard Sinkfield is one of the top lawyers in the state, and for my mind, is probably the best African-American lawyer in the city in terms of a combination of ethical practice and really brilliant courtroom work. I remember seeing Georganna and Richard here at every Christmas Eve dinner over the years and Doug Dean regularly here for the Christmas program. I think Doug is still in the state legislature actually. No, every mayor has known Emmaus House and been apart of understanding and really supporting its work since Maynard [Jackson]. I’m not sure what Austin’s relationship was with Sam Massell, who was the mayor before Maynard. It’s been pretty extraordinary.
I guess it has been sort of a shift and part of that is the kind of leadership that Claiborne offers versus the kind of leadership that Austin offers is different. What Claiborne has done is to really institutionalize the programs in a way that has a much stronger — I mean this new building is miraculous and lets us do for lots of people what really needs to be done. I know our board, the Emmaus House Board, not the chapel but the board itself, has really sort of talked a lot about giving people tools, not just providing service to them but giving them the kind of service and connecting them with the resources that make them stronger as families and stronger as individuals so they can do on their own and for others what they may have needed to have done for them by us. It’s sort of strengthening individuals and families so that they become more independent and more able to do for themselves. I mean it’s been a real concern of ours that we’re not simply giving but also helping people to be in a position to give back.
LANDS: What are those tools?
DEVEAUX: Well, it’s about literacy, it’s about being able to connect with resources. The Georgia ID thing is simple, but I know from seeing defendants — I can’t get them connected with services. Even people who have mental health needs or health needs — if you don’t have an ID, you can’t get into Grady, you can’t get into a hospital system, and you can’t get into the mental health system. You can’t get a job without an ID. You can’t get a referral to a mental health clinic. It’s just all that kind of stuff. We had a meeting at the courthouse just earlier today to talk about identifying in families what it is they need, whether it is child services, GED services, literacy services, behavioral issues. At one point, we had a young African-American minister who is also a family therapist based here and he provided about 10 hours a week of services for families and that was the best. It was really excellent work. It’s that kind of stuff to give people the kind of resources that if they had better incomes they could get for themselves. So it’s keeping kids in school, helping their parents to learn how to lobby on their own for better schools and better responses by the schools to the needs of their kids, all that kind of stuff. We’re not sure exactly where this new approach is going to take us. The staff is excited about it. I mean these are things that have been developed more intensively over the last year and a half. It is, in a lot of ways, creating an institution that can allow this community to do for itself the kind of things that Austin did in coming here when the community was at its bottom back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I guess he came in 1967.
LANDS: Does the Board have representatives from the community? How large is the board and where are they drawn from?
DEVEAUX: I really ought to know. They come largely from outside of the community. They are an advisory board essentially because it is diocesan organization, the Emmaus House is, so it is technically an advisory board. But we’re very aggressive about really working at keeping the institution going and raising money in addition to what the diocese can raise. We do an annual fundraiser now that Claiborne created that’s called the Garden Gala that one of the board members has at their house that has raised $30,000 to 35,000 each of the last two years, and it’s probably going to increase. It’s both an art auction and sale — an auction of items that were donated, like a week at someone’s vacation home, that kind of stuff. It’s terrific, but you know, this building is a result of a couple of grants and funding from individuals to do and give us a place to expand the services we were trying to provide for folk because we were cramped before. Also, we were able to raise that money to expand Meta’s work so that she’s no longer part time which is…she’s the best. She’s just fabulous what she does, but all these folk are committed to giving people resources that they can then improve on and do more with. It’s not just simply sustaining them. It’s about giving them skills. The Study Halls are really a fabulous example in a lot of ways because it’s become an advocate in the schools for these kids by getting their parents into sort of a better understanding of their right to communicate with the schools and make demands of the schools about their kids. The southern tradition was that teachers did that. Your minister did that in the religious school that you may have had your kid in. You’re beginning to get generations now of kids who, we have a couple of young women in our congregation who were in my Sunday School class back in the early 1980s who are now parents themselves and who finished college. One who just went back to college after raising her kids, and it’s kind of nice to see.
LANDS: You talked about the capacity building of parents through the Study Hall programs. Do you have a sense if that’s really intentional?
DEVEAUX: Yes. No question. From day one. Austin talked about that and the Board talked about that. I was on the first Study Hall Board, and we were committed to that. That was part of the plan. Parents would be involved in the program and in the school visits. Essentially, we’ll take one of your children and help you do it for that for one, but you can do it for the other child who is not in the program. So if we took the youngest child — because that’s how we started with just young children and went up a grade each year at first — they would learn how to do that for their other kids who were in middle school at that point when we were just starting with the youngest who was just in elementary school or kindergarten.
LANDS: So how did you come up with this? Did you model the program after another program?
DEVEAUX: Austin came up with up with it. I don’t know where Austin got these ideas. I mean he just began talking about it and it made sense. I’m not sure where, you know, but that notion that parents would be involved and would learn how to do it for themselves and for other children was part of the model from the beginning.
LANDS: Let’s look at it from the other direction. Have you talked to other congregations, other service centers about that? Are you serving as a model for other institutions now about capacity building?
DEVEAUX: I don’t know. I assume we are but I don’t know. That I don’t know. I have not been involved in that side of it. I mean I haven’t been a part of the staff of the Study Hall. I haven’t been on the board for a number of years. My connection with them is more through Emmaus House now than it is directly with the student.
LANDS: Who do you remember being involved in the Study Hall early on that I might be able to track down?
DEVEAUX: Goodness, goodness, goodness.
LANDS: Besides Austin.
DEVEAUX: Oh boy.
LANDS: That’s OK, if you think of it.
DEVEAUX: I can see their face. He’s a lawyer, old Atlanta family. There’s a guy named Paul Sanger. I don’t think Paul was involved with the Study Hall, but he would know some of the people who were apart of the Study Hall effort. Paul is a Princeton graduate, probably 70 now. His former wife, Hazel Sanger, was involved as well, but Paul would know some of the early contributors whose name just escaped me contributed financially to the building of Emmaus House. He would probably be able to tell you those names. Those people come to think of it got to be in their 80s. I wish I had a better memory than I do.
LANDS: That’s OK. It may come up this week.
DEVEAUX: Yes. I can see this other couple who they have a daughter who has a disability. They’re a very prominent family, very active in the opera and all kinds of stuff. I can see them.
LANDS: We talked about capacity building and wanting to kind of build a foundation under the families in the community. Can you tell me what other challenges Emmaus faces currently? Or looking at it another way, what is the vision?
DEVEAUX: Yes, the biggest challenge is the current state of the economy. We were hoping to make some headway on the empty newer homes in this community. The mortgage foolishness that has gone on is going to make it tougher and tougher.
LANDS: You were concerned about the empty homes before the current crisis.
DEVEAUX: Oh yes. It has been two or three years in the making really. I mean major effort protests and visiting city hall and neighborhoods. Columbus can tell you more directly about what is specifically is going on with that, but that’s been a concern for a long time. We’re excited about the fact that they were taking vacant areas and rebuilding and putting in new homes, but it was not being marketed in a way and that didn’t seem to be the market for buying. The less expensive homes, the ones that were connected with Habitat [for Humanity] were built in response to specific needs. I mean if a Habitat house was being built in this neighborhood — and there are a number of them — it was being built with a specific family in mind who was actually participating in the building of the house so that you knew who is going to occupy it and how the mortgage was going to be paid. They knew and were being given the help to organize a budget to maintain the home and to pay the mortgage and to pay it off, you know, and to successfully own the home and maintain the home. But for a lot of these other speculators, they saw this as extraordinary opportunity because it is so close to downtown. It is convenient as hell, it makes extraordinarily good sense to do it. I mean those places across the street from the stadium that have been marketed reasonably well sold like hotcakes when they finally went on the market. So I think everybody thought that anything that you built down here then would automatically go, and they overbuilt without real planning and didn’t know how to market. So a lot of that has been abandoned, and it’s sad to see. So that’s a major challenge.
The chapel itself faces the challenge of sort of, you know, we’re not an evangelizing group. We don’t really know how bring in new people to the religious community, and it’s too bad. Part of what we’ve done a better job at is connecting with other Episcopal congregations and parishes, which is wonderful, so that they can become a part of what we do for this community. But as a chapel community, we’re about stable now. We’re not losing members and we’ve got a few people back who have moved away have come back. But when I first joined the parish when we first opened the new building back in, I guess it was about 1987 or 1988, we were twice the size we are now. The choir, instead of being five people, was twelve or thirteen. We’re holding onto the young people we have now, which is nice. When they have babies, they are actually staying, which is nice. We’re just right about half the size, maybe 40 percent of the size that we were back in the late 80s. Part of that is Austin and part of that is the people who were here originally have grown old. A few of them have passed away, you know, the folk who came with Austin from St. Bart’s.
LANDS: So how do you think Emmaus House has affected you or what have you learned from being associated with Emmaus?
DEVEAUX: It introduced me to the other Atlanta. Andy Young was a congregational minister, active in a national organization. He was about to run for Congress. He lost the first round but won the second. I then went to law school, graduated from law school, and started work as a lawyer. I could easily — if I had not been introduced to Emmaus House — never have seen the inside of a community of people who earn less, back then less than $15,000 a year, now less than $30,000. This has been a window into the poverty of this community that you can easily not see. It’s the tragedy of Interstate highways that allow you to zip through from your middle class or upper middle class suburban neighborhoods. Even if it’s an in-town neighborhood, you go right through poor communities and you’re at your job and you go from one bit of near luxury to another bit of near luxury, and you don’t really know how impoverished this community can be. I mean, the other thing is, I was in the state legislature for a term and among the neighborhoods I represented was Cabbagetown. I represented all of downtown, the heart of the city, but the other neighborhood I represented was Cabbagetown, which is the descendants of the white, mountain community who were brought to Atlanta to work in the cotton mills. Not the black people who picked the cotton but the white people who worked in the mills which, you know, you are with the development is north of Fulton Stadium. Well, that neighborhood is Cabbagetown, going north and east from Oakland cemetery up to the railroad tracks, a very small community. I represented that neighborhood and I went on my first campaign, the one I won, I went door to door three times talking to every single registered voter in that neighborhood, and I got to know them. If I had not been to Emmaus House, I wouldn’t have thought about running. I wouldn’t have connected with these issues. I wouldn’t have understood the crazy two-world, you know, one rich, one poor, stuff that goes on in most southern cities. I wouldn’t then have actually understood that in the neighborhoods I grew up in that the same thing had existed and had been there all that time. My family is from the Bahamas and I had never really realized until after the Emmaus House experience and some of the New York experience as well in my college days, but especially Emmaus House. When I go back to Nassau now, I see it with very different eyes.
LANDS: Where were you living at the time that allowed you to represent this particular area, if you don’t mind my asking?
DEVEAUX: In the Old Fourth Ward, which is where I still live now. It’s just west of the Carter Library along what used to be Nathan B. Forrest which is now Ralph McGill, south of where the Sears, the old Sears Tower at City Hall East is. It was a street called Ashley Avenue.
LANDS: So you were living in that area during the time that Bedford Pine was undergoing redevelopment and the controversy over that property?
LANDS: Were you in office when that was occurring?
DEVEAUX: Probably right after the controversy because it was a lot of, because by the time I moved, I actually bought that house which was 1974 or maybe 1975, because I ran for office. I rented the house from a friend who went to Washington to work for Andy and stayed in D.C. A guy named Stoney Cooks. He had worked at SCLC with Andy, and when I started, I first came to Atlanta I worked for SCLC as well. Then I went to law school at Emory from there, and when I graduated from law school, by the time I had graduated, I had bought the house and didn’t leave until I got married in 1978 and moved back to the neighborhood when I got divorced at the end of 84, but I moved into a condominium in what’s called “Buttermilk Bottom Renaissance Park,” which is — you know the Crawford Long [Hospital] is? You go east along Renaissance Parkway from Crawford Long, which is one of the streets that deadends but goes east from Crawford Long Hospital. There’s a shelter and a daycare center and a drug treatment program right there. And a mental health day care facility the first block before you get to Juniper. Then you go another block to Piedmont, then you have Renaissance Park, and you have that little vest pocket shopping center with a Publix and a Walgreens, at North Avenue and Piedmont. There’s a development of condominiums and apartments right there at Renaissance Park going north, and then I’m on the south side of that. That’s when I moved back into the neighborhood into a condominium right there. Then when I remarried ten years ago, we built a house on Angier [Avenue], which is between Glen Iris and Boulevard.
So I’ve stayed in that neighborhood, and we love it. I mean you can walk everywhere. We have a great wide street. Two blocks away is an awful lot of what I’m sure is drug traffic. I’ve seen a number of my defendants standing and hanging on the corner. They wave to me pretty regularly. But you know, in front of my house and within a block of my house, there’s nothing. It’s just quiet, wonderful! But that’s the kind of place urban communities are. It’s that kind of mix.
LANDS: What else do you think I should know about Emmaus House?
DEVEAUX: It was and still is in many ways an integrated — racially integrated — religious community. Interactions of people in both the programs and in the chapel are comfortably integrated. None of it is practiced. It’s just people are comfortable with each other, and they aren’t insecure about whites being with blacks and blacks being with whites. It’s rare in this town. There’s a lot of social stuff in Atlanta that remains pretty segregated. There are many events I go to where there are maybe one in twenty white people and many events I go to where I am one African-American — maybe my wife and I are two African-Americans — in a sea of 90 percent whites, and it’s sad. I mean people aren’t uncomfortable. They used to be in the old days, back in the 1970s. I mean there used to be some real discomfort. People are more comfortable, but a naturally occurring and comfortable kind of integration is rare. This is one of the places where it is comfortable, and it’s kind of nice. It’s very special. It’s the way it’s going to be eventually when Georgia catches up with its neighbors to the north and south. North Carolina is better at this than we are. Florida is better at it than we are in some ways, though they have their own difficulties.
It remains a place where you can learn about the rest of your community — for people who are doing well — and you are reminded of the importance of the Biblical injunction that we are our brother’s keeper. It’s a matter of giving as much as connecting, because I get an awful lot more than I give here, an awful lot more. I have friendships with people — I have gotten to know kids, a couple of them have died by violence that have permanently connected me to their families. I had a couple of Sunday School students who aren’t with us anymore. All of that is Emmaus House. I wouldn’t give up any of it. It’s made me a much better person I think.
LANDS: I’m going to turn you away from Emmaus House if you will give me 10 more minutes of your time. So you came here to Atlanta in 1970, prior to being an attorney. So you’re coming with Young as an activist as part of the civil rights work that he’s doing?
DEVEAUX: Yes, and no. I came as a political activist, not as a civil rights activist. I had worked in New York with [Allard K.] Al Lowenstein, who eventually got elected to Congress, but he was active in the anti-war stuff. Al ran for congress and won, and I worked in his congressional office. Al had been on the board of the SCLC, one of the few white members of the board of the SCLC. So Al knew Andy and knew Martin [Luther King, Jr.] before he was killed, and knew that Andy was thinking about running for Congress and Al had run himself. We ran a door-to-door canvassing operation in New York. I knew how to do that, and I had wanted to come south because my family is Bahamian, not southern, and I wanted to know something southern politics. I had been active in civil rights stuff in New York, so understanding the South was an important piece. I had been to Atlanta once for a week in 1962 for the NAACP National Convention. At that point the only hotel that was available for African-Americans who came to that meeting was Paschal’s. None of the downtown hotels were available so that many, I stayed at the Morehouse College campus in a freshman dormitory. I remember the vice-president from American Airlines, an African-American lawyer, who was sharing a room with three other adults at Paschal’s. I mean, you know, I needed to understand the south, so Al said, “what do you think about going down there and working for Andy?” This was at the end of 1969. Andy came through Washington for something, and I was in Al’s office at that point in the fall of 1969, and we talked about the possibility. I said, “I’d love to.” So I came in December of 1969 and went immediately back to Washington to work on the film project, which was this national fundraising effort based on a film, a documentary, “From Montgomery to Memphis,” that was shown in April on the second anniversary of Martin’s death at theatres around the country. We showed it, we were supposed to show it in 25 theatres in DC. We ended up getting so oversubscribed that in the last week, we ended up having to get a 26th theatre, and sold them all out and raised a bunch of money, but I worked on that project in Washington, then came back to Atlanta to work for SCLC. I lasted on the SCLC staff maybe another month and a half before Andy announced he was going to run for Congress, and I shifted to his congressional staff.
LANDS: Did you ever work on housing issues or come into contact with it in Lowenstein’s office or down here? In the period you are talking about, New York has already implemented fair housing — open housing laws — but you are coming into the period when the south is only beginning to just talk about it, and the Episcopal church is part of that plan.
DEVEAUX: Yes, but I was not connected with that. I was connected with rent strike stuff in New York City in high school because the NAACP was very actively involved in doing tenant service. I may have forgotten — this is from high school years. I graduated from high school in 1963, so we’re talking the early 1960s. Wow! I haven’t thought about that in a long time, but yes, that’s the only connection.
LANDS: Yes, one of the curious things — and this is the other project that I’m working on that is sort of indirectly related to Emmaus, the welfare rights movement, all of these sort of overlap and the activists overlap — is how much is going on in New York and Chicago, and a lot of it doesn’t move down here. To some degree it does in the 1970s, a few years later, but I thought maybe you might have run into it, since the diocese actually makes the fair housing pledge and asks its congregates to. But you don’t join Emmaus until these . . .
DEVEAUX: If I had been at St. Luke’s or at All Saints, I probably would have been more connected with those things. I know that now, but my connection when I first came here was not to the Episcopal Church but to the UCC. My connection to activism was, if Andy was doing it, I was involved in it. If he wasn’t, I wasn’t. I was working on the staff of SCLC and then his campaign, and then I did an independent thing called the Southern Elections fund.
LANDS: So can I make a generalization from that, then, that Andy Young isn’t concerned about open housing, fair housing?
DEVEAUX: He is but that wasn’t… I don’t remember his relationship to any particular open housing effort, fair housing effort except as part of the SCLC’s general stuff. I’m sure that Jesse Jackson would have been involved in it in Chicago when he left Atlanta to go back to Chicago. I’m sure that Walter Fauntroy would have been involved in it to a certain extent in Washington because he was active on the ACLU Board from Washington D.C. and was in his own right very active in the politics of Washington being a Congressional representative for the district without a vote up there. I know him from the ACLU.
LANDS: That’s an area that the ACLU ends up being far more active than people think. That’s very interesting.
LANDS: Thank you.
DEVEAUX: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Interview with: Judge Clinton E. Deveaux
Interviewed by: LeeAnn Lands
Location: Muriel Lokey Center at Emmaus House
Date: 20 February 2009
Transcribed by: N. Hill
Edited by: LeeAnn Lands