Production Team: D
Interview Date: October 20, 1988
Camera Rolls: 4042,4040
Sound Rolls: 416
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Maggie Thomas, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 20, 1988, 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.
So we're back in October 1974, and I want to know if you thought it was strange that the mayor of Atlanta wanted to come and stay in a public housing project for the weekend.
Yes. In the beginning. I sure did. That was very strange. And the strangest thing to me was that ah, the chose me to house him.** And after they did that I told them I didn't mind it but, uh, I didn't have any place for him to sleep, me having seven children. And so they said they would arrange that. So I told them it was okay with me that he come and spent the weekend, you know. He would have somewhere to sleep. It was the only thing.
So tell me about that first day when the mayor came.
Okay. The first day that he came I believe it was on Friday, Friday afternoon. And, um, I was at work so when I got off from work I came up to the edge of the apartments and I looked down in the court and the court was just full of news, news media, just full of people. And, um, let me back up just a little bit. Would that be alright?
Okay, so, why don't you tell me about that first day?
Okay. I, I, I'm going to begin in the morning. I got up early that morning. Okay, I seen some strange people you know, kind of hanging around my door. And, um, I found that it was some people, it was somebody from the news media. I was sweeping off the porch so they asked me to come in. And I told them, "No, they couldn't come in because I was you know, getting ready to go to work." And they asked me, um, "Why we can't come--" They got smart. But I don't care nothing about that. They got smart and said, "Why you won't let us in? You, you haven't cleaned up?" And so I said, "Well, maybe not." So I just kept sweeping, going about my, you know, activities because I know I had to be to work at seven. So anyway, I slipped out the back door and went to work. So I just left them out there. I don't know where they went to. And then When I got off of work, I came up to the edge of the apartment, and I looked down into the court, and the court was just full of news, newsmedia; just full of people. I know I couldn't go through that crowd, so I turned around, and I went all the way down to the back, and I crawled up the back steps to get in my house, to avoid the newsmedia. But when I got in the house, ah I see, you know, the mayor coming and I knew I had to open the door then. It was just the mob, really, just a true mob, just fell all in the door, standing all up on my furniture so** So, I just went through with that. So when the mayor got in he told them, you know, to don't you know, do that to news people. That's when I had the problem with the news media. So after it got settled down everything got all right. They left. But truly they came back.
Now, where, where did the mayor stay?
Where did the mayor live, stay?
No. Where did he stay in your apartment?
Well, he stayed in my living room. Uh huh. That's where he slept. You know. During the night. But in the daytime he would go up and sleep in my bedroom. You know. A lot of people just in and out and he, he really didn't want to be disturbed so I just let him slept up there during the day, you know, when, when he was asleep. But at night, he would sleep on his rollaway bed.
Now, what did you serve the mayor to eat?
You mean the first day? I think we had, uh, the first day we had for breakfast, that was on a Saturday morning, I believe it was bacon and eggs. I'm not sure. But I know the second day we had salmon croquettes and biscuits. And my, my sister came to you know, help me out because I'm not that good a cook. She's a very good cook. And, um, she came to help me out so people in the neighborhood was crying, "Mrs. Thomas had a maid since the mayor came." So, that was just my sister you know, there to help me out. It wasn't a maid, it was my sister. But I, I know that we had salmon croquettes on Sunday morning and biscuits and grits for breakfast. Now, Friday afternoon, I served him you know, lunch, too, that Friday afternoon. I think we had fried chicken, Black eyed peas, candy yams and I believe collard greens. Uh huh, and cornbread.
Now you went to church on Sunday.
Sure we did. We went to church that Sunday. He went with me. And, um, we had a very good time. Okay. My, my pastor offered him to sit up in the pulpit but he said he'd rather sit in the audience, you know. So he sat down in the audience, with me, so he brought me on, brought us on back home. We was riding in a limousine. And, um, when we got back home we had dinner, uh huh, because my sister had prepared dinner, you know, for us and we had dinner. And a lot of people was there at the steps. I don't know what nationality of people these were but they was there at the steps, you know, asking him to help them in some kind of way. You know, get some housing or food or something. But he got on the phone and h--immediately I think he got some help for these people. I don't know whether they were, Haitians I believe they were. It was pe--some people of a different nationality.
Can you tell me about conditions in Bankhead Courts before and after the mayor came?
Okay. The condition in Bankhead Court at that time, we was having lots of problems with the rodents. That such as ra--mice, rats and, and roaches. And the sewage problem was bad. So that, I think, I'm sure that's why he came out. To, um, live in those conditions you know, for a short while to really see how they were. And while he was out there he really found out that we was having those particular problems. And, um, another thing that he found out, that they had false vents up to the wall where the heat, we was having heating problem too. Where the heat supposed to be coming out but it was no hole back there for the heat to come through. So he just found out that it was just some false vent up against the wall. But, uh, after he and Arthur Langford I know the two of them found these things out because we went and seen it. And uh, After he came and left things got better for a while. It really did. I mean the, the rats, the big ol' rats that would be around the dumpster, uh, we had stopped seeing them because the housing authority was--I, I don't know what kind of system they had, but it was something they would stick in the ground. It was some kind of sound system that would cause the rats to come to the top of the ground. And they would kill them like that. Uh huh.
Now, remember you told me about the dedication ceremony for the day care center? Where you thanked the mayor? Could you tell me what you remember about what you said in that speech?
Well, it was more or less thanking him, you know.
I'm sorry. Could you begin by saying, "When we dedicated the day care center, I thanked the mayor."
Okay. When we dedicated the daycare center I presented him a plaque from the Tenants' Association. And, um, in that speech I was just more or less thanking him, you know, for the weekend and the patience that he had with us out there at Bankhead, the weekend he spent there at my house. At my apartment. So it was more or less, I, it was a thank you token. That's what the plaque was.
And what did you appreciate about his coming out there?
Well, I just appreciate the patience he would, uh, I don't care, uh, what time of night somebody would come. The, the, the, the guards or whatever they were, they let it, they would let them in. They wanted to ask him questions. He would sit down and talk with them. And ask them as best he knew how. He didn't turn anybody away. I don't care who it was, children or what have you, he would you know, take time out and try and ask the best questions you know. If they had a problem he'd try and, um, resolve it for them.
When Maynard Jackson won, what did you think a Black mayor was going to be able to do for Atlanta?
At that particular time I really didn't, although I, I campaigned a lot for him. Simply because I, I knew his grandfather, Dr. John Wesley Dobbs. And, um--
So why don't you tell me what you thought was going to happen with the election of a Black mayor in Atlanta?
Okay. At, at that time I didn't think too much of it. I really didn't. But me knowing, uh, Maynard's grandfather, I knew him well, Dr. John Wesley Dobbs, and, um, I knew his aunt, Mattiwilda Dobbs I believe it was. I went to a concert. Okay. I, I knew him. When I knew him he was a s--boy, a little small boy, you know. But I knew Dr. Dobbs. He was a good man and I knew that if he was anything like his grandfather he would make a good mayor. So I campaigned for him and I also voted and encouraged people out in the neighborhood to vote for him. So, he became mayor, and I, I haven't regretted it. I really didn't. I'm enjoying him being mayor. I have, and really enjoyed it. He's been a inspiration to me and my family, I'll say. He really has been.
Tell me about when you went to dinner with the mayor.
Okay. It was--I believe it was on a Thursday afternoon. He had one of h--his chauffeurs to pick, pick us up. So it was myself, Jacquelyn and James, my two younger children. So I took a friend along with me, was named Marcus. He had that, he's their age, Marcus Thomas. And first we went to Peachtree Plaza to have dinner with Patricia Harris, the secretary. But I believe she's dead now. So we had dinner there and after that we went to a restaurant called Ichiban on Harleston Street. Okay. I've, I hadn't ever seen anything like this before. The p--the person what prepared the food, he prepared it right in front of our eyes. Ah, his stove was our table. What he's preparing the food on. And, um, I'd never seen nobody prepare food like that. We had zucchini, t-bone steaks, mushroom, and just rice, hot wine and fortune cookies. Just everything we wanted to eat. And, uh, we had to eat with chopsticks because I believe this was a Chinese restaurant. So it was just amazing how this man prepared this food. Okay. He would throw these things up that he had to peel and partially peel them while they was in the air. He had this sharp knife just, like a potato, he'd kinda throw it up and then he'd peel it while it was coming down outta the air. It was really amazing how he prepared that food, and it was really good. We also had shrimps too. And he prepared it right there in front of our eyes. And when he got through he fixed our plate in the stove that he prepared it on, it was our table. But it was just amazing. I had never seen anything like that before. So we just had a fun time there trying to eat with those chopsticks. Maynard Jackson, he, he didn't try and eat with them but the children did because it was really fun to them. So we just had a good time that particular night out to lunch, so. Children, of course, they couldn't eat all that food. But Maynard Jackson ate all of his. And at that time he was on a diet, too. He didn't eat but once a day. But when he ate he really ate.