Profile: Susie LaBord (1911-1991) a.k.a. Mama LaBord, Great Lady of Grady Homes

By Meredith Torre, Archivist, Atlanta Housing Authority

Born in Alabama May 29, 1911 as one of 14 children to a sharecropper, Susie LaBord was appointed the first public housing resident in Atlanta to serve as a voting Atlanta Housing Commissioner member by Mayor Sam Massell in the 1970s. She received national recognition as an unflagging and determined spokesperson for the rights and needs of disadvantaged Americans.

Photograph 2014.05292. Susie
LaBord, circa 1985.

LaBord fought alongside people to help them break out of what she called the “poverty cycle,” affirming that it was through programs of community action that, “poor people of all races get a chance to stand on their own feet, learn, earn, and carry their share of the load.” Although Rev. Leon Harris described Susie LaBord as, “sweet, soft spoken, and sophisticated,” he equally described her as “radiant and reaching out; a leader, lady wearing many hats” and “eager to do for others.” 

Mrs. LaBord’s personal motto, “keep on keeping on” started in her community work back in 1933 during the time she and her husband Gus operated the Fourth Street Rib Shack at Fourth and Cain Streets. They held a collection from Atlanta businesses in the Fourth Ward to distribute among the community’s poor.

In 1951, when her husband was stricken with cancer, LaBord moved to Grady Homes and continued to dedicate her life to helping others following his death. Affectionately known to many Atlantans as “Mama LaBord,” AH Vice-President Jack F. Glenn, in a 1976 Board resolution wrote that her advice and counsel was “sought by political, religious, and business leaders as well as by ordinary people, young and old.” She served as president of the Grady Homes Tenants Association for over 25 years and director and organizer of the Susie LaBord Day Care Center for over 28 years.

Each year LaBord passed out nearly 825 bags of fruit, sweets, and nuts at Christmas time that she and volunteers from Atlanta Housing staff helped to assemble for the children and elderly of Grady Homes. Mrs. LaBord received national attention in her support of programs aimed at low income families, rights of the poor, and her advocacy of federal legislation for community action programs.

She prevailed relentlessly upon President Richard Nixon for drug and nutrition programs. She corresponded with President Lyndon B. Johnson, often reaching the President on the telephone when many Senators could not do so, and once barged into the Oval Office to make sure President Johnson did not cut the city’s Equal Opportunity funds.

Photograph 2013.01079. Atlanta Mayor Maynard H. Jackson
and Mrs. Susie LaBord, first resident commissioner of Atlanta Housing.

She was received by President Jimmy Carter in celebration of the anniversary of the Head Start Program. Throughout the 1970s, she made several trips to Washington and St. Louis to speak to the public in the fight to maintain high levels of public housing.

At the age of 80, when LaBord passed away, the Atlanta Journal Constitution hailed her as the Great Lady of Grady Homes. “The Housing Authority was her family, her life,” Bettye Davis, then Director of resident housing for Atlanta Housing stated, and Mrs. LaBord was “a most effective fighter for the rights of public housing residents.”

Learn more about Susie LaBord in her collection at the Atlanta Housing Authority, and in the AHA’s Grady Homes and Veranda at Auburn Pointe Records.

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