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Atlanta—sometimes called Black mecca of the South—has always been a city where African Americans have encountered housing injustice. "Vine City through a lens" is a photographic narrative of a historic Black neighborhood located in Atlanta's Westside. The former home of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Atlanta's first Black millionaire, Alonzo Herndon, Vine City was once a thriving African-American community where Black businesses flourished.

The Jones family poses for an impromptu portrait. Jett Street, 2016.
ATL Fly. Young boy Jayvion cruising the scene. Chestnut Street, 2017.

The significance of Westside Atlanta began before the rise of the civil rights movement. Techwood and Clark Howell Homes, the first housing project in the United States, was constructed in 1936 in response to the complaints of Black residents about poorer living conditions as compared to their white neighbors. More housing projects began to fill the Westside, which became a predominantly Black area during the civil rights movement and the white flight of the 1960s. During this time, Vine City benefited from strong community leadership through activism.

Papa John's and a money service center on the corner of Northside Drive and MLK cease operation. Northside Drive, 2016.
To upgrade the neighborhood, a new restaurant was constructed in their place. Northside Drive, 2018.

But after the assassination of Dr. King, the city of Atlanta mourned the loss of its hometown hero, and many residents of surrounding Black neighborhoods lost hope. In the '70s and '80s, Vine City was struck by the crack epidemic. Construction for the Olympics in the mid 80s inaugurated a cycle of displacement and homelessness that has continued in the city's Westside for over 30 years with the completion of the Georgia Dome in the early '90s, the rise of gentrification across surrounding neighborhoods in 2012, and the 2017 completion of the new Mercedes Benz Stadium, which sits adjacent to the former home of the Georgia Dome. With each spike in property taxes, more and more residents are forced to leave. Throughout this process Vine City residents petitioned city officials about the lack of investment in their neighborhood and railed against polices like eminent domain that allow seizure of private property for public use.

Bars and gates guard the abandoned Sweetooth Market Place. 320 Sunset Avenue, 2015.
A pristine modern façade erased of name and history. 320 Sunset Avenue, 2018.

Despite a high rate of crime and drug use, Ms. Debra, a resident of Vine City, explained that a lot of what has been said about Vine City is not true. "The news media misinterprets and taints information to create a totally different narrative." She described her community to me as an unforgettable place of determination and hope.

Mr. Al stares into the camera. Charles-Andrew Avenue, 2016.
Sentiments, invocations, and prayers written on an abandoned house. English Avenue, 2016.

Through photography and documentation, I hope to honor Vine City's history and the compassion and resilience of its residents as the Atlanta landscape continues to shift.

C. Rose Smith

C. Rose Smith is a conceptual documentary photographer residing in Atlanta. A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Smith discovered her passion for photography at age 10. She now uses the medium for activism.