A-Town Down Pt. 1: Vine City or the Notorious Bluff
The included photographs are a selection from A-Town Down Pt. 1: Vine City or the Notorious Bluff.
In 2003, after almost 40 years of living in Vine City, Coretta Scott King packed up her things and left for another of Atlanta's neighborhoods. Two burglaries to her house—one by a man later convicted of murdering elderly women in the area—no doubt influenced her decision to finally leave.
Although recent decades have witnessed a sharp rise in crime and a steep economic decline in the area, Vine City once existed as a prominent and prosperous Atlanta community. As early as 1885, Morris Brown College opened its doors in the neighborhood, and it became the first educational institution in Georgia entirely founded by black patrons. In 1910, Alonzo Franklin Herndon, Atlanta's first black millionaire, built his mansion on the hills of the neighborhood. The Herndon Home served as a declaration that a generation born into slavery would not become a generation fastened to poverty. Vine City transformed into a community filled with stores, restaurants, and businesses as wide-ranging as the Magnolia Ballroom and the Sunset Park amusement park.
By 1965 when the King's bought a house on Sunset Avenue, Vine City's time as a prosperous black community had passed. Martin Luther King Jr., after his first visit to the area, said it displayed some of the worst living conditions he had ever seen. But during the next few years, Vine City quickly became a nexus for civil rights engagement in Georgia. Morris Brown College educated scores of activists, including a young Hosea Williams, while the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee utilized the neighborhood as an organizational center for its Atlanta Project.
Since the civil rights movement, though, Vine City has steadily lost more than half of its population. Many of the neighborhood's buildings lie vacant or crumbling. Even Morris Brown's campus, which occupies a large tract of Vine City's land and holds several of Atlanta's oldest surviving buildings, slowly rots as neither the college's administration nor the city attempts to stabilize it. After losing its accreditation and nearly all of its students in 2002 due to a federal aid embezzlement scandal, the college currently offers little service to the community except as a copper mine.
Locals now refer to a stretch of Vine City leading from the long shadows of the Georgia Dome to the steps of many residents' homes as the Bluff—one of the most infamous sites in Atlanta's heroin exchange.