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Austin McNeil Ford

February 6, 1929 August 18, 2018
Austin McNeil Ford
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Obituary for Austin McNeil Ford

Renowned civil rights leader, the Reverend Austin M. Ford died Saturday, August 18, 2018. Austin Ford’s fight for social justice began while he was a divinity student at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, when in 1952 the school’s trustees barred admission to black students. Although Ford stayed to graduate, he protested the decision. In his own words, “We were all in a way radicalized and motivated to do something about a segregated society. I think those of us who felt it was wrong and worked to change that decision never looked back.”
Upon graduation, Ford served as an assistant rector at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, going on to become the founding rector at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in northeast Atlanta where he continued to fight racism and inequality. In 1967, he left his position at St. Bartholomew’s and moved into a dilapidated house in one of the city’s poorest neighborhood to begin a new ministry called Emmaus House.
While at Emmaus House he established and directed a range of programs for children, teens, adults, both young and old. The Poverty Rights Office provided advocacy concerning housing and entitlements, including food stamps, social security, and welfare. Once a month bus trips to Reidsville Prison enabled families to visit inmates. Ford also served as vicar of the chapel at Emmaus House. More than 50 years later, Emmaus House continues to provide education, opportunity, assistance, and advocacy.
During his time at Emmaus House, Austin Ford shouldered a principal role in the desegregation of Atlanta’s schools. His steady commitment to civil rights on behalf of the disenfranchised brought him into contact with leaders of the movement as well as Atlanta’s neediest citizens. Ford led voter registration drives, campaigned for welfare rights, and, with a local leader Mrs. Ethel Mae Matthews, formed a chapter of the national Welfare Rights Organization. He picketed, protested, marched and was arrested numerous times. Because of the visits to Reidsville Prison, he was welcomed as an honored guest when imprisoned himself. When Ford and Rev. Joe Boone, an African-American minister, shouted, “Shame! Shame!” when the Georgia legislature reduced welfare payments, they were removed from the state house in shackles. Ford said, “They [the police] went too far”, as televised coverage created widespread sympathy for their advocacy efforts.
Austin Ford, born February 6, 1929, grew up on a cotton farm in Decatur, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with degrees in Greek and English and received a doctorate in divinity from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. He received numerous awards but never wanted attention drawn to him personally; the focus should be on the issues.
A memorial service will be held at a later date with details to be posted on this website. In lieu of flowers, donations are requested for: The Emmaus House Foundation, Inc., c/o Barbara Ternes, 32 School Street, Bellows Falls, VT, 05101; Episcopal Relief & Development, 815 Second Avenue, New York, New York, 10017; Stacey Abrams for Governor, staceyabrams.com/support.


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Church Service

Saturday

22

Sep

2:00 PM 9/22/2018 2:00:00 PM
Cathedral of St. Philip

2744 Peachtree Road, NW
Atlanta, GA 30305

Cathedral of St. Philip
2744 Peachtree Road, NW Atlanta 30305 GA
United States
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