About this project
This project began in September of 2013 in a graduate history course titled "Global Migrations and Local Diasporas" at Emory University. Our professor, Jeff Lesser, gave us complete freedom to develop a final project. We decided to contribute to the study and preservation of the histories of English Avenue and Vine City.
In the fall of 2013, these places gained renewed interest in the media because of plans for a new Atlanta Falcons stadium. We first learned about English Avenue and Vine City because of the public debates surrounding the effects of the $1.2 billion stadium on the adjacent neighborhoods. In the midst of widespread planning for these neighborhood's futures, we became interested in their pasts. While many voices participated in the conversation about what they could be, we wanted to understand what they are and have been.
In our early research we were particularly interested in how these neighborhoods' history might relate to migration. We did not know what to expect. We were happily surprised by what we found: migration runs throughout these places' pasts.
English Avenue dates its early settlement to the late nineteenth-century arrival of a German immigrant family, which established a nursery that became well known throughout Georgia. Decades later, in the aftermath of a disastrous 1917 fire in the nearby "Sweet Auburn" neighborhood, hundreds of Atlantans migrated the few miles westward to settle in English Avenue and Vine City. In the 1940s and 1950s, white residents began to migrate from English Avenue to the outskirts of Atlanta. African-American residents, meanwhile, began to move north from Vine City into English Avenue, settling in homes that would house famous residents, such as Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King, Jr. Some of these homes would also serve as launching pads for transformative historical events, such as the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinate Committee. Looking deeper into the past, some locals trace their ancestry to Gullah migrants from the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina. As we began to cobble together a timeline of local history in our minds, we realized that migration was a fundamental theme in these dynamic neighborhoods' histories. This theme does not only emerge from research in dusty historical archives; it is intimately wrapped up in daily life and local politics.
English Avenue and Vine City have reputations for vacancy: as places from which people have migrated. Indeed, in 2013 population rates are low and vacancy rates are high. We realized in our research, however, that the notion of these neighborhoods as places-without-people is not new. From early settlement in the nineteenth century to the present, locals have debated the accelerated movement of people in and out. In the late 1960s, for instance, local activist Helen Howard described the process of out-migration:
"We have about 10,000 people in Vine City. Most of them work as domestic and in service kind of jobs. And construction, that's what they're hiring now-laborers. I know of one family has a couple of teachers in it and my kids were in college-but it's just a few. As soon as they can afford it, they move. They run like hell" (Black Women in White America, 516).
Some locals have made it their mission to bring people back - to reverse the trend of people "running like hell." At the 2013 English Avenue Festival of Lights, Councilmember Ivory Lee Young, Jr. announced that the neighborhoods are "alive and well." Picking up the theme in a conversation with our group, Councilmember Young called for former residents to return and participate in neighborhood revitalization. Local organizations, such as the Westside Atlanta Land Trust, are also working to resettle the area through the rehabilitation of distressed properties. Former residents who live elsewhere in Atlanta do maintain connections to English Avenue and Vine City, most often via one or two weekly trips to one of the 44 local churches. Migration away from these places, therefore, does not mean that people do not remain connected.
Studying the history of local migration, we believe, helps shed light on how the reputation and realities of these peopleless places emerged.
While we discovered the local importance of migration, we find this theme connects closely with other important topics. One of the most important is development. English Avenue and Vine City have long been seen as places in need of renewal and revitalization. As we found a long tradition of migration in our research, we also discovered a deep history of successive plans for development and revitalization. The vigorous debates and negotiations surrounding the new Falcons' stadium and its potential for community renewal are nothing new. A 1941 article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution touting new public housing demonstrates how the echoes of the past remain audible in the present. We think that current efforts to imagine these places future - to develop and redevelop them - should take into consideration the history of development, which displays plans and proposals revolving like a turnstile for nearly seven decades.
Our website addresses how themes like migration and development help define the past and present of these places. We hope to have found interesting stories that might help shape how Atlantans think about these neighborhoods today and tomorrow.
We designed this website to accommodate many perspectives on English Avenue and Vine City. The blocks on our homepage symbolize windows. Each window contains a story that provides insight into moments in the past and present of the neighborhoods. The collection of stories we have assembled does not capture a comprehensive local history.
This website is a modest contribution to the exploration and preservation of local history in the heart of Atlanta. This effort began long before us and will continue long after. If you would like to become involved with this project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Angie Picone, Graduate Student in History
Tenzin Namdul, Graduate Student in Anthropology
Steffi Krull, Graduate Student in History
Sara Kauko, Graduate Student in Anthropology
Lisa Hoelle, Graduate Student in Religion
Jonathan Coulis, Graduate Student in History
Andrew Britt, Graduate Student in History