Vine City is one of the oldest historically African American neighborhoods in Atlanta, located in West Atlanta. Historically, the city gained traction around 1867-1880 when many HBCUs were constructed including Spelman College, Morehouse College, and Morris Brown College. The area was originally dominated by educated African Americans who were wealthy enough to attend these prestigious universities, while the rest of the area was considered slums and crime-infested. [1] Segregation and redlining caused the city to become predominantly African American, as many Blacks were forced out of their former homes in downtown Atlanta. The Great Atlanta Fire of 1917 led to a housing shortage, which led to Vine City becoming a majority Black working-class area.[2] Today the neighborhood is best known for housing the Mercedes Benz Stadium and the Georgia World Congress Center, the area is extremely underdeveloped and faces crime and poverty as its main challenges.[3]

Map of Vine City Development Area, 1970

            In the early 20th century Vine City was thriving because of successful Black Bussiness, leading to an economic boom. The city claimed the title of the successful place for African Americans to live in Atlanta. Alonzo Herndon the richest African American in Atlanta built his home in Vine City, his home today is a landmark and represents the rise of African American success. Famous African Americans such as George A. Towns, Grace Towns, and Martin Luther King JR all lived in Vine City at one point.[4] Vine City was a thriving primarily African American community filled with colleges, businesses, and churches. The area was very well known by the African American community and the White community. Although everyone knew about the area, many White Atlanta’s never been to Vine city and had no idea where it was. As Maurice J. Hobson stated  “most white Atlantans had heard of, without ever seeing, “Summerhill,” “Vine City,” and “  Dixie Hills,” where dissatisfaction had been strongly expressed in the mid1960s by black Atlantans who had not felt the “benevolent glow of the city’s enlightenment.”[5] The Vine City Foundation was also founded in Vine City to help more African Americans to become educated.

Alonzo Herdon Home, 1915

            The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in April 1960 at Shaw University after students throughout the South began to participate in sit-ins around segregated areas. [6] The heroic effort of these students began to gain traction around the Southern United States and eventually led to the formation of the SNCC. These young students had the goal of fighting for racial equality during the Civil Rights movement, the movement continued to grow and over 300 students began to join the sit-ins, which led to media attention and scrutiny. Prominent civil rights leaders such as Ella Baker and Martin Luther King JR began to see the powerful impact these students were having and eventually invited them to a conference at Shaw University where they organized the movement and laid out their plans. The groups planned on using nonviolent protests against discrimination including sit-ins and boycotts.[7]

Vine City Neighborhood Profile, 1967.

            Vine City became an important location for the SNCC movement, specifically the Vine City Project. In February 1966 members of the SNCC formed a plan to help Georgia state legislature candidate and SNCC member Julian Bond get elected. Although this was the original purpose of the plan, the project began to expand to register African Americans to vote, began the Black consciousness movement, and argued against the war in Vietnam. The Vine City Project is an important part of the Civil Rights Movement.[8]

The window of SNCC Field Office, 1966


The SNCC used the house today known as the Freedom House located in Vine City as their headquarters for the project. The first action taken by the SNCC was convincing residents in the area to launch a strike, to help break the residential segregation housings. The group was protesting the terrible conditions of housing in Vine City, specifically African American housing. The strikes gained heavy traction and led Martin Luther King JR and other members of the Southern Chrisitan Leadership Conference to speak out against the harsh conditions faced by African American residents in Vine City, leading to more publicity. This led the conversation to focus on blaming the government, as the government was responsible for not ensuring safe living conditions for Blacks when they did for Whites.  The committee also continued to campaign for Julian Bond, while also spreading awareness for his policy goals. For example, abolishing the death penalty; while spreading how capital punishment disproportionately impacts African Americans more than Whites.[9]

Fuller-Freedom house

            The Vine city project throughout the years began to change its agenda, eventually, the committee began to focus on Black Consciousness and Black Power. The focus was now on establishing Black self-reliance and improving Black incomes. The committee also began to stop only participating in nonviolent protests, and some participated in violent protests. The members of SNCC involved in the project began to develop different views, some preached for Blacks only involved with the SNCC while others supported working together with Whites to spread awareness. Many members began to believe black power and self-determination could only be possible only if all whites were not involved.[10]

            The New York Times published an article on August 5th, 1996 which included sections of a SNCC paper mentioning the importance of Black Power, and how all African Americans need to begin to embrace their Blackness. The Times used this article to express how the SNCC is racist and Anti-White, even claiming SNCC is seeking total separation from Whites. The Times reporters wrote “Regardless of other interpretations that could reasonably be offered of the term ‘black power,’ Mr. Carmichael and his SNCC associates clearly intend to mean Negro nationalism and separatism along racial lines–a hopeless, futile, destructive course expressive merely of a sense of black importance.”[11]

Vine City Community Relations Report

            The Article brought the concept of Black Power and the SNCC’s messages into the national spotlight. The white community and civil rights organizations began to accuse the SNCC of “narrow Black nationalism intent on violence”.[12] The NAACP leader called the concept of Black Power, “Black Death”[13]. The Vine City Project built their concept of Black Power because of the Atlanta locals they interacted with daily. The SNCC was not preaching Black Power because of hatred towards Whites, instead, it was because of the internalized racism in African communities. When white people involved with the SNCC were involved with organizing events, many African American locals would presume the White people were always in charge. The Vine City Project released a statement to clarify their stance on Black Power and White People claiming, “White people who desire change in this country should go, where that problem (of racism) is most manifest,” Atlanta project staffers wrote. “The white people should go into white communities.”[14]  The New York Times falsely believed, that since the SNCC does not Whites to help with the organization, they wanted them all kicked out. Writing, “Using their position paper to popularize their views, the ‘black consciousness’ advocates succeeded in persuading the full membership to adopt a formal policy of excluding whites from policymaking and organization roles within the committee”.

SNCC Poster, 1963

            The publication of the article had a detrimental impact on the SNCC and the Vine City Project. The white community began to largely neglect the group and believed they were attempting to worsen race relations, not improve.

SNCC Members preaching Black Power during the Meredith March 1996.

            In January of 1996, the SNCC announced their disapproval of the Vietnam war and critiqued the continued fighting. The activists in Vine City surrounded many popular businesses such as barbershops, hair salons, bus stations, and gas stations and began a campaign against the Vietnam war. The members argued that Black men were being forced to fight in a war for America when they don’t even receive equal rights in America. The agenda was extremely controversial which led to tensions rising between the members of the Vine City Project and executives of the SNCC. This agenda impacted Julian Bond as he supported the Vine City Project’s views, hurting his standings throughout Atlanta. The violence being caused by the anti-Vietnam war stance and the number of arrests eventually led to the SNCC executives suspending the Vine City Project. Leading to the end of the project. [15]

The Vine City Project is an inspiring story of African American students fighting for equal rights in a country where “All men are created equal”, yet the students knew they did not have equal rights as their white counterparts. From one of the most undeveloped and poverty filled areas of Atlanta, the Vine City Project became a national platform that spread awareness of the treatment of African Americans, promoted African American suffrage, and embraced Black power and brought the concept to the mainstream. The project began in Vine City an area where Martin Luther King Jr described as “living conditions were the worst I had ever seen…I had no idea people were living in Atlanta in such conditions. This is a shame on the community. [16]

SNCC Member being arrested, 1963.

            The Vine City Project is an important founding stone of black self-determination and the eventual Black Lives Matter movement. The project led to the conversation about Black Power, segregation, voting rights, and police brutality. The project also led to the question of the United States Foreign policy, and the priorities of the government when its own citizens don’t have equal rights.

Works Cited

[1] Kevin Moore, “Incubating Uncertainty: Anticipating Change in Vine City, Atlanta”, GLOBALIZING ARCHITECTURE/ FLOWS AND DISRUPTIONS. (Auburn: ACSA, 2010): 204.

[2] Moore, “Incubating”, 204.

[3] Moore, “Incubating”, 206.

[4] “Vine City,” Digital Exhibits Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, accessed April 21, 2022,

[5] Maurice J. Hobson, The Legend of the Black Mecca : Politics and Class in the Making of Modern Atlanta (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 32.

[6] Winston Grady-Willis, “Atlanta Project of the SNCC,” Oxford African American Studies Center, (September 13): 1.

[7] Grady-Willis, “Atlanta”, 1.

[8] Grady-Willis, “Atlanta” 1.

[9] Grady-Willis, “Atlanta”, 2.

[10] Grady-Willis, “Atlanta” 2.

[11] “New York Times Publishes Atlanta Project Statement,” SNCC Digital, accessed April 21, 2022,

[12] “New York Times”

[13] “New York Times”

[14] “New York Times”

[15] Grady-Willis, “Atlanta”, 3.

[16] “New York Times”


  1. “Vine City Neighborhood Development Area,” AUC Woodruff Library Digital Exhibits, accessed April 28, 2022,
  2. “Alonzo Herndon Home,” AUC Woodruff Library Digital Exhibits, accessed April 28, 2022,
  3. “Neighborhood Profile No. II – Vine City,” AUC Woodruff Library Digital Exhibits, accessed April 28, 2022,
  4. Roberts, Gene. The Story of Snick: from Freedom High to Black Power. Photograph. New York Times Magazine, September 25, 1996.
  5. Screenshot via Google Maps
  6. “Community Relations Commission Staff Report on Vine City,” AUC Woodruff Library Digital Exhibits, accessed April 28, 2022,
  7. SNCC Poster: “Come Let Us Build a New World Together,” 1963, Zoya Zeman Papers, USM
  8. Mississippi on Meredith March, June 1966, Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Stanford University
  9. Danny Lyon, Memories of the Southern Civil Rights Movement 138-139,