The Bluff (Atlanta)

The Bluff is an approximately 1.5-mile-square neighborhood northwest of Downtown Atlanta. The Bluff is bounded by Donald L. Hollowell Parkway (formerly Bankhead Highway) to the north, Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. (formerly Hunter St.) and the Atlanta University Center to the south, Northside Dr. and Downtown Atlanta to the east and Joseph E. Lowery Blvd. (formerly Ashby St.) to the west.[1] Joseph E. Boone Blvd. (until 2008 Simpson St.) divides the Bluff into the officially recognized neighborhoods of English Avenue to the north of and Vine City to the south.[2] The Bluff is nearly contiguous with NPU L.[2]

The Bluff is infamous throughout metro Atlanta for the availability of drugs, heroin in particular.[3][4][5][1] The neighborhood has some of the highest poverty and crime rates in the city, with the Carter St. area surrounding the Vine City MARTA station ranking in 2010 as the #1 most dangerous neighborhood in Atlanta and #5 in the United States.[6][7]




The area of the Bluff north of Simpson Road was purchased in 1891 by James W. English, Jr., son of Atlanta mayor James W. English. It was developed as a white working-class neighborhood. Simpson Road was long a residential race barrier with whites to the north and blacks to the south.[8] This area was known at different times as Bellwood[9] and as Western Heights. In 1910 the Western Heights school (later renamed Kingbery after a principal of the school, then renamed English Avenue Elementary School) was built at the northeast corner of English Ave. and Pelham St.[10]

Overcrowding in the neighborhood's school is documented as a serious issue from at least 1910 through 1946 (photo), notwithstanding multiple expansions of the facility.[11][12][13][14]

The area south of Simpson Road was settled at the end of the 1800s by large land owners, and a predominantly African-American residential area was established, though there were also white subdivisions, schools, and churches. A mix of social classes were present. In 1910 Alonzo F. Herndon, founder of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, built his home at 587 University Place.[15]

Racial tension and transition

The Great Atlanta fire of 1917 contributed to the already great need for housing for African Americans and by the 1920s-1940s, despite violence and bombings trying to prevent it, blacks started to move north across Simpson Road.[8]

In 1941, the Eagan Homes and Herndon Homes public housing projects opened and as a result, the black population in the area increased. On Hunter Street (now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive), white business owners once lived behind their stores, but in the 1940's, black owners started taking over these businesses.[15] In 1947 Paschal's Restaurant, an Atlanta soul food landmark and meeting place for civil rights leaders, opened in its original location on West Hunter Street.[15] In 1951, the English Avenue Elementary School's designation was changed from white to black in response to most whites having moved out of the area.[16]

Heyday and Civil Rights

During the mid-20th century, the area was a middle-class African-American neighborhood.[1] Commercial areas included English Avenue; Simpson Street/Road, in its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s; and Bankhead Highway, which was part of the US Highway system, and was in its splendor in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved to the area in 1967, and his widow Coretta Scott King continued to live here until her death.[15]

In 1960, the English Avenue elementary school was dynamited, likely in retaliation for civil rights demonstrations by blacks. Mayor William B. Hartsfield condemned the dynamiting as the work of those from outside Atlanta, "the outhouse set".[16] The area experienced notable pro- and anti-Black Power riots in 1966[17] and 1967.[18]

Decline and crime

Suburbanization started draining the area's vitality starting in the 1970s.[8] Over the following decades, it attracted buyers and sellers of heroin, and deteriorated into a corner of poverty in the city, characterized by large numbers of abandoned, boarded-up houses.[1]

In 1995 the English Avenue Elementary School closed.[10]

In 2006, a "no-knock raid" in search of a drug dealer, burst into the home of Kathryn Johnston. Ms. Johnston, in her 80s, opened fire on the officers and wounded three and was killed by return fire from the officers. The incident resulted in much anger in the neighborhood and in close scrutiny of police use of "no-knock warrants" in drug raids.[19]

Attempts at revitalization

Failure of empowerment zone

In November 1994, the Atlanta Empowerment Zone was established, a 10-year, $250 million federal program to revitalize Atlanta's 34 poorest neighborhoods including the Bluff. Scathing reports from both the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs revealed corruption, waste, bureaucratic incompetence, and interference by mayor Bill Campbell.[20][21]

Replacement of public housing projects

As part of the Atlanta Housing Authority's systematic replacement of public housing projects by mixed-income communities (MIC), Eagan Homes was demolished and the Magnolia Park MIC replaced it. Herndon Homes was demolished in 2011.[22]

Historic Westside Village mixed-use project

In 1999, the Atlanta Housing Authority first announced plans for the "Historic Westside Village", a $130 million commercial, residential and retail project at the area's southern end near Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. at Ashby St.[23] A Publix supermarket opened in May 2002[24] but the overall project stalled by 2003 as further anchor tenants did not materialize.[25] This, along with disappointing sales, caused the Publix - the only full-sized supermarket for miles around - to close in December 2009.[26] Creative Loafing called the project the most notorious "municipal have tarred Atlanta" during mayor Bill Campbell's era; the project "fell victim to...cronyism, bureaucratic incompetence and a flagrant disregard for federal lending guidelines".[27] In December 2010 things looked up as the Atlanta Development Authority announced plans for Wal-Mart to open a store on the site, which Mayor Kasim Reed called "an end to the food desert in the area".[28][29]

Black-white coalition

The Christian Science Monitor reported that by 2008, businessman John Gordon and Rev. Anthony Motley, a 20-year resident of The Bluff, "Atlanta's roughest 'hood", had "formed a black-white coalition seeking angel investors" and brought together "local businesses, neighboring Georgia Tech, and church leaders to inspire not just city and private investment, but also to light a spark of hope among law-abiding residents – many of them older people fearful of the streets outside their front doors. Their unusual friendship" had "helped inspire two massive clean-up efforts, a small but significant drop in crime, and glimmers of fresh paint and clean-swept front walks."[30]

Proposed community center on site of English Avenue school

In May 2010 the non-profit Greater Vine City Opportunities Program, founded and directed by "Able" Mable Thomas bought the English Avenue Elementary School with the intention to convert it into a "state of the art green technology global community center".[31]

The 2008 tornado caused major damage in areas of Vine City (photos).

In March 2011, NPU L voted in favor of a Sunset Avenue Historic District from Joseph E. Boone Blvd. southward to Magnolia Street.[32]

Public Transportation

The Bluff is served by the MARTA rail Blue Line and Green Line at the Vine City and Ashby stations. Bus lines serving the neighborhood are the 3 along Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, the 51 along Joseph E. Boone Blvd., and the 26 along Cameron M. Alexander Blvd. (known as Kennedy St. until 2010)[33], English Avenue and Donald L. Hollowell Pkwy.[34]

The Bluff in films, music, and books

  • The 2011 film "Snow on tha Bluff" directed by Damon Russell "the story of an Atlanta robbery boy and crack dealer". The film stars Curtis Snow, "whose livelihood revolves around armed robbery and drug pushing" and "sought out Russell to make a film about his life". It premiered at the 2011 Slamdance Film Festival, a showcase for the discovery of new and emerging talent in the film industry.[35][36][37][38][39]
  • The 2006 independent docudrama, "The Bluff", focused on the crime, drugs and violence in the neighborhood.[40][41]
  • Many rap music lyrics include references to the Bluff, including Young Jeezy in his songs "Vacation" ("I'm goin' to da Bluff where it's rough") and "Paper Chasin'"[42]
  • The Bluff is a key location in Tom Wolfe's novel A Man in Full[43]

Famous residents

  • Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King
  • 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain spent his early youth here, attending English Avenue School and the age of 10 joining Rev. Cameron L. Alexander's Baptist mega-church.[44]
  • Singer Gladys Knight and two of the Pips attended English Avenue Elementary School[45]
  • Judge Marvin S. Arrington, Sr.[46]
  • Mayor Maynard H. Jackson, Jr.[46]
  • Comedian Bruce Bruce grew up in the Bluff [47]

External links


  1. ^ a b c d Andria Simmons, "Heroin a deadly draw in ‘Bluff’", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 7, 2011
  2. ^ a b City of Atlanta Online, NPU L map
  3. ^ Atlanta Magazine, "The King File", 4/15/2009
  4. ^ Creative Loafing, "Heroin Tightens its Grip'
  5. ^ "The Bluff", Urban Dictionary
  6. ^ Alexis stevens, "Study: 4 Atlanta neighborhoods among nation's most dangerous", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 5, 2010
  7. ^ AOL/Walletpop, "25 most dangerous neighborhoods 2010"
  8. ^ a b c English Avenue Community Redevelopment Plan update
  9. ^ "Years of neglect turn English Avenue home into rotted shell", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 26, 2002
  10. ^ a b "English Avenue Community Campus", Greater Vine City Opportunities Program, Inc.
  11. ^ "Citizens ask for better facilities: Crowded condition of Western Heights school cause of complaint", Atlanta Georgian and News, August 19, 1910, p.8
  12. ^ Clifford M. Kuhn et al., Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948
  13. ^ Atlanta Historic Newspaper Archive search for "English Avenue schools"
  14. ^ "Crowded schools: more students than ever before threaten to clog all facilities" Life magazine, October 7, 1946, p.40
  15. ^ a b c d "About Vine City", Vine City Health and Housing Ministry
  16. ^ a b "Furtive Dynamiters Blast Big Atlanta Negro School", Meriden Record, December 13, 1960
  17. ^ "Forming Mobs Turn into Anti-Black Power Rally", Lodi News-Sentinel, September 6, 1966
  18. ^ "Negro Disorders Erupt in Atlanta Slum Section", Rome News-Tribune, October 24, 1967
  19. ^ Patrik Jonsson, "After Atlanta raid tragedy, new scrutiny of police tactics", Christian Science Monitor, November 29, 2006
  20. ^ "Empowerment zones: Boondoggle or aid to poor?", Atlanta Business Chronicle, November 6, 2000
  21. ^ Scott Henry, "Federal grants go to groups with shaky past", Creative Loafing, September 26, 2007
  22. ^ Joeff Davis, "Photo of the Day: Herndon Homes demolition", Creative Loafing, February 19, 2010
  23. ^ "Westside due a $130 million redo", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 16, 1999
  24. ^ "A DREAM FULFILLED: Intown Publix to open", Atlanta Journal-Constitution", May 30, 2002
  25. ^ David Pendered, "Entangled in Vine City; 'The city lost control': Officials scramble to save project to renew Historic Westside Village", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 28, 2003
  26. ^ "Historic Westside Village Publix To Close, Residents Not Happy", MAJIC radio station site, December 2009
  27. ^ Scott Henry, "Westside Do-over", Creative Loafing, April 26, 2006
  28. ^ "Historic Westside Community on Road to Revitalization", Atlanta Development Authority, December 13, 2010
  29. ^ "Historic Westside Village Welcomes Walmart" (presentation), Atlanta Development Agency, December 2010
  30. ^ "New Life for Atlanta's English Avenue", Patrik Jonsson,Christian Science Monitor, December 11, 2008
  31. ^ "About GVCOP", Greater Vine City Opportunities Program, Inc.
  32. ^ Sunset Avenue Historic District
  33. ^ City of Atlanta online, ordinace 10-O-1420
  34. ^ MARTA Interactive System Map
  35. ^ Snow on tha Bluff, official website
  36. ^ Radio Interview with Filmmakers, Damon Russell, Curtis Snow, and Chris Knittel on Rock 100.5 The Regular Guys
  37. ^ On Tha Bluff’ Provides Eye-Opening Look at a Crime-Riddled Area in Atlanta
  38. ^ Filmmaker Magazine's: 25 New Faces of Independent Film 2011
  39. ^ 11 Alive News: Notorious Atlanta neighborhood subject of feature film
  40. ^ "'The Bluff' Brings Hollywood to the Hood", PR Web
  41. ^
  42. ^ Young Jeezy official website
  43. ^ Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full, Google Books
  44. ^ Yolande M. Minor, "The Herman Cain of Atlanta's West Side", Cascade Patch, October 19, 2011
  45. ^ Harmon Perry, "Gladys Knight and the Pips: Too hot to stop", Jet magazine, June 20, 1974
  46. ^ a b Sidewalk Stories
  47. ^ Scott Gargan, "Connecticut Comedy Festival at Bridgeport arena", The News-Times (Danbury, Conn.), October 11, 2011

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