Interviewer: Jackie Shearer
Production Team: D
Interview Date: February 23, 1989
Camera Rolls: 4087-4091
Sound Rolls: 436-438
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Ethel Mae Matthews, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 23, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
OK Mrs. Matthews, lets begin at the beginning. Ah, how long have you been poor?
All my life, but I don't consider myself poor.
I'm rich with many things. Not with money, but with courage, with strength, with faith, with independence with my belief in god, and that make me very rich. So I don't consider myself poor.
Where did you come up?
I was born and reared in the country to two sharecroppers. My mother was Black woman, my father was an American Cherokee Indian, and my father and mother worked on the farm sharecropping. And it was very, very hard. I went to school, but when the cotton got ready to be chopped and to be picked, I had to come out of school. And, when you get ready to go back to school, you be so far behind that you don't know where you stopped. Now, a lot of peoples, you know, they criticize a lot of peoples, for not knowing how to read and write. But, they have to take under consideration, that everybody couldn't go to school because if your parents were sharecroppers, you had to come out of school and help harvest the farm. And, it's, to me, you know, um, we shouldn't have to be criticized because we don't know how to read and write--some of us; you know, we called it, illiteracy. And, we just looked at one race's illiteracy. But you have to understand there are some poor White peoples is more illiterate than you are, but we just point and look at one race of peoples and that's poor Blacks. But, if you go down the line, you could name a lot of races who are illiterate, see. Now, I stopped school, and when I was in sixth grade; not because I wanted to, but because I got in trouble. And, when I mean in trouble--not going to prison--but, I got in trouble, I got pregnant at twelve and I married at twelve and I became a mother before I got thirteen years old. And, that's why I stopped going to school. But, I moved to Atlanta in 1950. And, Father Austin Ford, he, ah, had an adult school for adults who wanted to go to school. So, I started to going to school back at night. And, I went to school, and I learnt that, that I left off in the country. And, I graduated and I got my GED, and I'm very proud. Because, that night when we had commencement, and I walked down that isle with my long White dress on, to receive my diploma, my children were sitting out in the audience. I had five children. They were sitting out in the audience. And, I was really worse than they were. And, they were sitting out there, you know, clapping, and saying, "That's my mother! That's my mother! She's getting her diploma tonight!" And that made me very happy. And my motto is this: you can be anybody you want to be, you can do anything that you take out to do, with God in front, you can do these things. And, I don't let nobody, as I told you the other day, when you talked to me, I don't let nobody, I mean nobody, tell me what I can't do. Or what I can do. Because, I'm like this, I'm a strong believer in God. I believe if I put him in front, I could do anything that I take to do. Now a lot when I first started this work; it was hard--very, very hard, because we got criticized--
I'm sorry. I think we ran out of tape right then. So--
OK. Now, I want you to think about 1973. Maynard Jackson was running for mayor of Atlanta and Ethel Mae Matthews was running for city counsel of Atlanta. Why were you running for city counsel? What was your platform?
To bring about a change for all poor peoples, regardless of race, creed, or color. And, I wanted to be--at that time--I wanted to be a councilwoman, to represent my peoples, which is poor peoples--someone that is worse off than I am; and, that's why I ran to be counsel woman, at that time. But, I was denied by a two-pound judge here in Atlanta, because, at that time, I was a welfare mother. And, I didn't have five hundred dollars to pay to be put on the ballot. And, I was denied my rights to be put on the ballot because I was poor, I was a welfare mother, and I was Black. And the two-pound judge denied me. So, at that time, ah, we had a welfare rights lawyer, who was working with us: Mr. Fred Leclercq, and so he was at court with me, at that time. And, so when the judge, said that I couldn't be put on the ballot, you know, because I didn't have the five hundred dollars. And, Mr. Fred Leclercq asked me was I willing fight to go to Washington, D.C. I told him yes--
Could you just hold on a second. I want to check a few things--
OK. So, Mrs. Matthews, I'd like you to tell me the story of your run for city counsel in '73.
Well, I decided I want to run again. So, I went down, because, you know, I thought the law still stood. And, when I got down there, they said, "No." It says five hundred dollars, I don't have five hundred dollars, and so he looked at me and said, "If you're so concerned about your peoples--as you call them--if your so concerned about them, and you want to help them, say you go out and solicit the two thousand signatures." So, we came back to the mayor's house and we sit down and we scrapped out our, you know, strategy of what we was going to do. And, so when I went back two weeks from then, when we went back down, and I had twenty-five thousand signatures. And, so he counted them, and he looked up at me and smiled and he said, "You didn't need but twelve hundred." And, to me, that was a slap in the face, but I controlled it, myself, because they do not want poor peoples running for office. And, then if you do run, they will tell you that if you quit fighting against us, and come along over on our side and fight for us, we'll put you on an office. But I didn't, I didn't want to go in office like that. I wanted to go in on my own honesty. That's the way I wanted to go in--where I could help my people. And, they knew if I went in office, things were not going to never be the same no more. I don't know how long they would have let me stay in office, but if I'd have gotten in there, things wouldn't have never been the same, no more. Because, I wanted to help my peoples change the way things were, and make it better for poor peoples, who was worse off than I was.
Why did you think it was important for a poor person to run for elected office?
Because, you know the plight of the other poor person. You know the plight of him. But, I feel that, if you don't have to live like a poor person, you don't know the plight of another poor person--you don't know it. But, if you have to live it from day to day, week to week, month to month, you know what it is to be poor. You know what it is to not have money to pay your bills. Not have money to pay your house rent. Not have money to pay, you know, your light bill, your gas bill, your water bill. You know how it is. And, so, that's why I think it need to be some poor peoples in office who know the sympathy of the next poor person; that's why I wanted to run.
When Maynard Jackson won election, there was a Black mayor in the city for the first time. Did that make a difference to you, and to poor people in Atlanta?
Yes. It made, It really made it different. Because, that's the first Black mayor we had. And, that's what we was working hard for--to bring a Black person in office, you know, that knew some of the plight of the poor peoples**. And, Maynard Jackson was good. He was good, and he did what he could. And, you had to understand. I don't care who you get in office, they going to make you promises--all kinds of promises: they going to do this for you; they going to do that for you. But, when they get in there, it's so much they can do for you. And, some of them don't do nothing for you. But, it was a channel to us who were poor, who needed somebody, felt our sympathy; that's why we worked hard to get him elected.
Once he was elected, not just him as a person, but his administration, the people who worked under him, did you feel that, as a poor person, you had more access to downtown?
Yes. We did have more access. We could go down and his aides, and things, would see us coming and when we got there they would make us welcome to go in and talk to him. But, it's not like that now. And, that's, you know, and that's why we say that we had--when Maynard Jackson was in office, and when his administration was going on--we had access to a lot of things that we don't have access to now.
OK, now, give me a sense of did the lives of poor people change, say, when Jackson took office in'74 and then when he left office, in, whenever it was, `80-81; um, in that space of time did the lives of poor people change?
Some. Some. Because, when Maynard was in there, he had jobs for uneducated peoples, you know. And, peoples who had never did no work, didn't know how to do no work; he had jobs, you know. They were low jobs like sweeping the streets. But, that was a job. It was job, you know. And, it didn't call for you to be educated to be done went to college to have two or three degrees and five or six diplomas sitting up on your wall, or hanging up, you know, catching dust. But, it was a job, you know. Womens and young womens and middle aged womens would have jobs sweeping the street, picking up paper and all of that. And, they had something to help themselves with. But, since then the streets don't get swept. There's nobody out there to sweep the street; nobody out there to pick up paper. And, you know money's green. Ain't never seen no White money, no blue money, no Black money, no gray money; money's green, you know. If you make an honest living, money is green and you can go to the store and spend it.
Talking about sweeping the streets: when the sanitation workers went strike in 1977, did you support what they were about?
Yes, I did, we did.
Could you talk about that strike?
Well, when the sanitation peoples went on strike. We felt that by them being poor and had, you know, that's what you call the sanitation, that job, to me, is a very low-class job. And we felt that by them having that kind of job, and everything, we felt that it was our duty to support them. We weren't going against mayor by supporting them. But we was lending them our support so they could get more for what they did, and where they could live better. And we offered change, you know. If it take demonstrating, protesting, sitting in, singing in, praying in, sometimes doing a little cursing in, that's what we all about, see. That's what we all about. Bringing about a change. Now, some changes has come. But not all of the changes that we would like to see.
No, you told me a story when we talked on the phone about your four year old granddaughter holding up a sign, and about how it wound up with you taking your granddaughter to jail, and being happy to go to jail. Can you tell us that story?
Yes. You know, a lot of us who were able to work and who could work and who wanted to work, well they, ah, built the, ah, World Congress downtown. They built the World Congress downtown. And they didn't, you know, too many poor peoples jobs. And we felt that poor peoples needed jobs, too, if it meant making up cement and toting bricks and things like that. So, Father Austin Ford and Reverend Joseph Boone, and a lot of us, and a lot of Organization on Welfare Rights Organization[SIC], we went downtown. We called first and asked if you know, the manager, of World Congress, could we come down, and talk to him about some jobs, and he said, "Yes." But when we got downtown, he was nowhere to be found. So we sent, you know, some of his peoples, his employees, what worked there, sent them downstairs to tell them that we had arrived. He sent word back that he would be up in fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes, he never did get there. So we waited, we waited, we waited. And he never did get there. And so all of a sudden all of us had a sit-in. We sit in and we went to singing, we went to praying, and all of a sudden we looked around, there were state troopers, there were policemen, there were detectives, there were the fire peoples and everybody, like we had murdered somebody. And they came in, you know, we was in there kneeled down on our knees.
I'm sorry. We are going to have to pick that up, because we ran out of film.
OK, Mrs. Matthews. I'd like you to pick up where you talk about how you looked up and you saw all these police and whatnot.
As I say, we was, you know, some of the senior citizens--
Can I say something? I have to talk they way I have to talk. Because I know you all are going to censor it, anyway, so, my language is my language.
So you were saying that you looked up and, OK.
Ah, we looked up, and we saw these policemens, all these, ah, state troopers, the FBIs, the detectives, they came in, and they locked the door, locked all the doors up on us. And they came and told Reverend Boone that he would have to stop praying. So Reverend Boone, he continued to pray. Father Ford, he continued to pray. And we continued to sing. We continued to sing and clap our hands. You know? And we just going on like we was in church. But they stayed there with us. Had us all hemmed in. And they stayed there with us, and when- when Reverend Boone got through praying, then they came up to him and said, "You all are under arrest." And Reverend Boone said, "What have we done?" Said he, "Disturbing the peace." And Reverend Boone said, "We were trying to get the manager's attention." He said, "He promised to come up here and talk to us. So we're down here trying to get some jobs for the ones who are able to work." But still, he say, "You all are under arrest, and you are going to jail." And they had ten paddy wagons out there waiting on us. And my little four year old granddaughter was with me. Because I exposed my grandchildren to what's going on, so when they get up they'll know what the struggle is all about. So I the only one had a grandbaby there. So they took us all to jail. And they herded us out, unlocked the doors, and herded us out of the building to the paddy wagon. They put so many of us in one paddy wagon put so many of us in another paddy wagon. And so all of us got in the paddy wagon. And when the, um, policemen who was driving the paddy wagon--we was just singing and clapping our hands, and we was happy. When he stopped the paddy wagon at the side of the street, we thought he was going to say, "Well, y'all can get out and go home," but he didn't say that. He looked back at us, he say, "What kind of peoples are you all? What kind of peoples are you?" And we say, "What?" He say,"I have never carried a happier bunch of womens to jail like you all before! So what you so happy about?" I said, "Well, one thing about it," I said, "you're taking us to jail." I said, "We don't have nothing to eat at home," I said, "When we get locked up, we will have a good dinner and a good supper." And he shook his head, you know. And he started, you know, the paddy wagon off again, and we just had the most fun, and we was happy. He took us all to jail. Now, our welfare right lawyer's name is Haines, Margie Haines, so we had to stay out there all the evening, but she came, and she bond us out. And so they pretend like they were going to send us to prison. But they didn't send us to prison, I don't know what she did, but our trial didn't come up. So my grand- little granddaughter, she was four years old, and at that time they was trying to take her away from me. And the policeman had her head, and I had her feets. And we was pulling, pulling, pulling. But I was stronger than he was, so I jerked her away from him. Because I knew, if they had have took her, they was going to carry her to the juveniles saying that I didn't have no business with her, you know, in a demonstration in the first place. But I didn't let him take her. So we went on to jail, they were- had us all in jail, and we were locked up all the evening. But we got out. But that didn't dim our spirit. We kept on marching, we kept on protesting, you know, for the rights of all peoples.
What were you fighting for? Not just then, but in general?
We were fighting for dignity, respect, and a better way of life. And more money for welfare recipients to live on. More money for the welfare mothers to get their children school clothes, and things like that, we were also fighting for credit. Some of us got it and some of us didn't get it. And so that's what we were fighting for. And we was fighting for them to put a handle to our name. You know. Because it had been down through the years, you know, Sue, Ann, you know, Annie, Aunt, Aunt, and all of that stuff. But you know, down here in the South, you worked for White peoples, and they got a little girl, when she turned ten, they, ah, the mother'd take you up in a corner. I know what I'm talking about 'cause that's what she did for me. She said, ah, "So-and-so turning on ten years old, now you have to call her `Miss'." And so we decided we would fight for some of that, too. That we wanted a handle to our name. And we thought, and when we got that handle to our name. I tell you, you might think, you know, ah, that Mrs. Matthews is this and that. I do not answer nobody when they call my house and say, "Can I speak to Ethel, or this," I say, "Who-what Ethel do you want?" "Ethel Mae Matthews." I say, "I don't know Ethel Mae Matthews." I say, "I know Mrs. Matthews." 'Cause that's what everybody know me by, Mrs. Matthews. So that's what we were fighting for.
Atlanta has a reputation for being an excellent place to live for Black people. What do you say?
It's a excellent place for some Black peoples. It is. It's a excellent place for some Black people. But not for all Black peoples, it's not a excellent place to live. Because if it was a excellent place to live, they would get people some job**. All those people who sleep on the street, who eat out of the garbage can. It would be a better place, yes, if you're bright, the Nilla wafer color like I told you the other day, if you have a Nilla wafer color--you know what a Nilla wafer is, don't you? Those kind of colored peoples? What look like they're White, they is half and half. If you're their--I you're their color, and you got long hair, sure! It's good for you. It's good for you. You can come here and get a job. But if you've been here all your life, uh-uh. If you're Black. Uh-uh. You can't get a job. See them houses they're living in? You got oodles and oodles and hundreds and hundreds of houses in the, ah, public houses, boarded up. Nobody, you know, got nowhere to live. Everybody, they say, Atlanta's this. Atlanta's too busy to hate. That's the word here. Atlanta's too busy to hate. I don't say that. Atlanta is not too busy to hate. Because if it was too busy to hate, you wouldn't have no children going to bed crying for food every night. You wouldn't have no children getting up in the morning crying for bread. You wouldn't have people standing in the shelter, have to get out--get up every morning and get out before seven o'clock. And that's what you have to do if you go to the shelter. And the mothers' whole families, mothers and children living in shelters, they're afraid to go to sleep. Afraid they're going to get raped. And a lot of them have got raped in the shelter. Yes, we need shelters. But we don't need a permanent shelter. We need shelters for peoples who are down and out for two or three weeks, or two or three days. But we need some of the boards took off the windows of these vacant houses, these vacant buildings, you know? We got skyscrapers, we got domes being--going to be built, we got all of that. But when it come down to a poor human being, the peoples don't have nothing downtown, for nobody. And, and, and, and it's frustrating. I mean, you got peoples who can help. And you go to them, they be like, "You don't know what you're talking about." And they look at you like you're dirt. And they look at you, and pretend that they don't know what you're talking about. And then, when you go downtown, you have to act like you're crazy to get any attention. And that's what they label you as- of. Those are crazy people. Here come those old crazy, hair-raising people. That's what they say about you. That's the only way you can get attention, now, downtown. You know? You got to go down to go to city hall. You can't get in to see, um, Mayor Andy Young, because one of his aides is going to meet you and talk. He's not in town. Nine out of ten he not.
OK, now, remember. We're stuck back in 1974. Andy Young is still a minister. He's not Mayor. But now I want to ask you another question--
That's what make it so bad. He a minister.
I want to ask you about in 1979, you led a fight against Mayor Jackson's desire to increase the sales tax. Could you tell us about that?
Yes, we did. We led a fight to, ah, oppose it, and we did when--we did. It, it, it didn't, you know, it didn't come about.
What were you fighting for?
To keep the sale tax down. We didn't need it because we were poor, and- and we couldn't pay it. We was already paying four cents on the dollar. And we pay up there one more penny, would be bad on us, and one more penny would have been bad. But it came up I think three years later. And the same peoples who helped us to fight it get it knocked up. The same peoples who went up three years before, three years later, they want to hit us.
OK, could you stop for a minute, I want to see: is that someone at the door? Is that just the wind?
OK, so, Mrs. Matthews, could you tell us about, um, a time when you would go downtown to visit some of the city council people and find them less than helpful?
Well, um, we would go down, and in committees and things like that, fighting for, you know, for more money and houses, and stuff like that. And they would tell us, "We don't have the money to do this. We don't have the money to do that." And then we would say that you do have it. "You have money for this and you have money--" "But we don't have money for that." And then, you know, we get in a confrontation back and forth, and stuff like that. Ah, Ira Jackson, Q.B. William, and John Calhoun, so now, Q.B. is dead, and Calhoun is dead, too, so Andrew Jackson is still here.
OK, so, you're in DC for this National Welfare Rights Conference and then you went over to Resurrection City. I want you to paint us a picture of the first time you went to Resurrection City, what did it look like? What kinds of people were there? What did it sound like?
We was already, we went to Washington, DC, to have our conference, and we was there for two weeks and we'd have our conference every morning and then we would go to Resurrection City to participate in Resurrection City. Well, the first day I went over there, it looked like a little chicken coop to me sitting in a mud puddle, you know. Because it was raining the whole week up there. It was raining the whole two weeks that we was up there. And it rained on Resurrection City. So, when we went over, we'd go there every day to participate, in, ah, you know Dr. King's preaching and his programs and, you know, talking about poor peoples and everything. But, we'd have to when we wore pants we'd have to pull of our shoe and rolled our pants legs up. The ones who wore dresses and skirts would have to pull their dresses, you know, skirts, above the knee because Resurrection City was sitting there in a mud puddle. That's what Mrs. Retson[SIC] said it was all about. And peoples, I can't name all the race of peoples there, there were so many peoples there. You know, all nationality of peoples. And it seemed that everybody was there for the same cause and the same cause was bringing about a change for all poor peoples, regardless of race, creed or color, you know. And, it was good. It was real good because, ah, Dr. King, you know, he told us, all about racism, discrimination and all about that stuff.
So the rain and the mud didn't dampen people's spirit?
No. Ah, ah, it didn't dampen nobody's spirit. It didn't dampen nobody's spirit. And then we would march in the rain, we would protest in the rain. And that's the first time I ever got any, ah, the stuff what they throw at you to break up protests and marches?
Tear gas. That's the first time that I had ever had any teargas thrown on me. We had to march down through town, you know, there's hundreds and hundreds of people. And then we went up to that park to have a big, you know, speak-out. And so the polices didn't want us to go there. We went anyway, so they got tear gas and sprayed on all of us. And that's the first time I'd ever witnessed anything like that. But the next day we, after we got through with our business. The next day we do the same thing. Go back to Resurrection City, pull our shoes off and wade the mud to go back into Resurrection City. And that's what we did for two weeks.
What was Resurrection City trying to accomplish?
Resurrection City, to me, was trying to bring peoples of all nationalities together to let them know that one problem was everybody's problem. And, and, ah, Dr. King was teaching that, you know, that everybody was somebody, that just because you was Black and poor or poor and White or poor and what's another nationality, that didn't mean you wasn't nobody. And he was teaching us, you know, to have faith, have courage, and hold up our head and not bend our backs and let nobody ride ours backs. And he told us, he's teaching us, that as long as we had a straightened up back, couldn't nobody ride it, except when we bent over, you know, we was giving peoples a chance to jump on our back and ride. And that's the kind of stuff he was telling us about, you know. And, ah, telling us to not to be violent, you know, not to be violent and he was saying that, you know, if somebody come and slap you on one side of the cheek, you turn the other side to him, which ain't too many peoples are going to do that and which too many peoples didn't do it at that time either, you know. And that's, those are the kind of things he was teaching, you know. Non-violent, non-violent that was his thing. He teach you not be non-violent. But he also taught you about independency. You know, and about your rights, you know. He taught us about that, courage and faith and depending on God, that he also taught us that, you know, we had the problems and God had the answers. If we were, you know, believe in what, you know, in God.
And now what about Reverend Jesse Jackson, did you ever take part in any demonstration led by him?
I took parts in meetings in, in a, at King's, you know, every January, you know, he would come and take a part. But I wasn't able to take a part this January and last January because I was sick.
Oh, no, I'm sorry. I meant back in Resurrection City?
Oh, yes, ah, ha. He led, he led some of the marches in Resurrection City. And he was with us one day when the polices, you know, sprayed us with tear gas.
And do you remember ever hearing Reverend Jackson, ah, ah, preach or speak at Resurrection City?
He spoke too.
What did he say?
Well, he was, he was basically the same thing that King was saying, Jesse Jackson was saying them too, you know, he was telling them, "Just because you was born in poverty, you don't have to live in poverty." And that, that was some of his speaking activity you know. And in this life you don't. Just because you're born in poverty, you don't have to live in it. You're born there. Poverty don't be born in you. You're born in poverty. But poverty don't be born in you. And, I just think, you know, my philosophy is this. If you want to be somebody, you can be somebody, you know. It's up to you to be what you want to be, it's up to you. If you don't want to be nothing, you don't be nothing. But don't try to hinder me from being somebody. But you can be anybody you want to be. With God in front, you can be anybody.
OK, now, answer me this. Was Resurrection City a failure in your opinion?
To my opinion, it wasn't. But we didn't stay up there at the time but two weeks. And when we left, it wasn't a failure because it drew so many nationalities of people of different faiths, you know, different belief, different colors, you know. It, it just drew peoples from all across the world, you know. You know, everybody didn't have the same belief in this, you know, same faith but they was there. All of us was of one accord, we was there and all of us was on one accord. That's the good part about it. Wasn't nobody there against nobody. Wasn't nobody there talking about when they're trying to put one another down and, you know, it did. But everybody what was there for two weeks, that I participated, you know, we was all on one accord.
Now, I also want to have you remember, we're still in 1968, right? Dr. King has been assassinated, Resurrection City was mud-bound and then they finally tore it apart. Did you feel discouraged? Did you feel like giving up? Did you think that things were over?
When Resurrection City was coming up? No. But I have, it wasn't, I have, have gotten discouraged and have been discouraged but it wasn't about Resurrection City. It was about things that happened to me in Atlanta. See. Because I just don't know, participated in Resurrection City for two weeks. Been I've been here since 1950 in Atlanta and I thought when I came, you know, that things was, well a lot of things I've found out since I been here from 1950, to up in now, it wasn't what I thought, you know, you see we have come a long ways but we still got a long ways to go. And right now, I don't suppose we talking about the '80s though. But, you know, right now, it's a lot of racism, discrimination. It's a lot of that's going on right now. And it's just, going, you know, a lot of peoples, you know, they got a thing about, "Some White peoples do this to you. Some White peoples do that." Uh uh. I have to say that, your own kind, your own race, they would, they will discriminate against you no worse than the other race will, you know. And don't ask me why. I don't know. But it's sad, it's, it's sad, when your own color who has been cold just like you or worse than you, and God give them a chance to get a good job, stick a pencil behind the ear. You can't go nowhere and talk to them either. And so I don't see it that way, you know. Ah, I know what talk, my parent's didn't teach me what my Black brother and sister would do to me. They taught me the other way that what some mean White people would do to me. They never did sit down and tell me that Ethel Mae, your Black brother, your sister, would do this to you, do that. Because they, but they would tell me, say, "Now, some mean White folk like the Ku Klux Klans and all of that, they will do it to you." You see. I would rather for this young man to spit in my face and for you or him to spit in my face, because I was taught. That's how I was taught. But see, it's just a up-hill struggle, if you are poor and if you're working with poor peoples and trying make a testament for poor people. It's a up-hill struggle. I don't care who you are, you know. If you're poor, you're just poor, you know. And, and, ah, I don't work for just one race of peoples. I work for all poor peoples, regardless of race, creed or color. I would like to see a change for everybody. And a lot of us, you know, who go around and say, "Oh, it's nobody hungry." Yes it is. And somebody who God done blessed, get up and say, "Oh, I done made it. I done made it." But, you know what I say? "Ain't none of us made it till everybody done made it. When everybody be made it, we, all of us, you know, we made it then."
So, we're back in Resurrection City, you said something before about how you felt that Resurrection City opened up people's eyes. Could you say that again?
Well, I felt that, ah, about Resurrection City being there, it opened up a lot of people's eyes there. At that time, you know, they didn't feel, they didn't feel the way they did before they came to Resurrection City. But after they came to Resurrection City, and they was taught about racism, discrimination, violent, and all of that and homeless peoples and poor peoples and how they being, you know, being mistreated, police brutality and all of that. It opened up a lot of people's eyes and things were just, you know, thinking differently and they went to feeling different toward each other.
And now, you also said something about how you felt that some people fell by the wayside after Resurrection City, after all the disappointments of 1968. I wonder if you could speak on that.
Well, ah, after Dr. King got assassinated, you know. It just seemed like a lot of people just gave up and just fell by the wayside because they felt that by him being gone, you know, that they didn't see no point in going on, you know. They just felt that if they went on, you know, that it wouldn't do no good. Some of them, not all of them. And a lot of peoples who, who was with Dr. King, yes, they fell by the wayside because they gave up first, you know, and, and, ah, ah, Reverend Abernathy, Jose William and just a lot of them. But Representative Tyrone Brook, he kept on. And after meeting, two or three kept on.
What about you?
I kept on. And I will continue to keep on as long as breath is in my body because, soon as I don't, a lot of grandchildren, other, my other members, sister, my other sisters and brothers, they got a lot of children and grandchildren. One day, we going to have to give up and see childrens of the 50s are going to be the future of the world. And that's why I let her, that's why I exposed mine because, you know, when they get out there, they'll know what they're going to face. And you do face a lot of problem. Because when I first started this work I was harassed. I got a lot of threatening letters which I kept because I just had two dozen which I keeps threatening me that I was making problems, you know, that I was opening up people's eyes and I shouldn't do that and I shouldn't do this and they was telling me they were going to bomb my house and i done kept the letters. They was going to bomb my house. They was going to kill my children. Someone would call and ask me, "Where do I want my body shipped?" and all that kind of stuff. Trying to discourage me. But the more they did that the more determined I got and the more strong I got because I believe in God and I know he would take care of me. Now some of the places that I go in now, when I first started this work, a lot of doors were slammed in my face. I couldn't go in there. A lot of doors were slammed in my face. And I'm not just talking about certain door, just a lot of more slammed in my face. But now, a lot of the doors that were slammed in my face, when I go now, they open up to me and I can walk in. And that's why when I look back over all of the frustration, all of the temptation, all of the confusion, all of the hurts, all of the tears, all of the lost and all of the pain, when I look back, I say it was worth it. It was worth it.
Now, when, as you think of how you had refused to give up, does your memory of Dr. King and his preaching have anything to do with that, do you think?
Mm hmm. Yeah. And, and, when I, when I went to Washington, D.C. for the first time for the Welfare Rights Conference, two weeks conference, that's changing my whole life. Cause there was so many new hurdles. I never thought, you see where I come from in the country, I come from Atlanta in 1950 and my father wasn't allowed to talk about poverty. All I heard him, my father would talk about at night, was how early he had to get up the next morning to catch Mr. Charlie's mule and go to the field. And I went to, ah, Washington, D.C., I heard some things I had never heard before. Because I didn't know Black peoples had a right at that time. I didn't know we had a right. And, I was just like going to school. Those two weeks was just like going to school. I got educated. And they said we had a right. And ever since then I come back and I taught my peoples that they had a right. And I tell them, "Look, we don't have money but we have a right and that's the best thing in the world." All of us need money but there is some things money won't buy, that's happiness, love, health. But we need money to live on. But that's, I came back and I taught my peoples that they had a right just as birthright as anybody else had. And I come back and told them that, man, a handle would be put on their names and that's what they did.