This area in northwest Atlanta known as Vine City got its name from the heavy kudzu vines that grew all over the place; Vine City was a "Negro" enclave, in the era of segregation into which we were born. The Magnolia Ballroom was on the corner. James Brown and popular "Negro" entertainers would come to perform there. Often we'd pretend to be James or the Famous Flames, his backup singers, doing choreography, hitting spins and splits, feigning fainting spells with an old bedspread thrown over our shoulders.
That apartment building over there … Former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson's family had lived there. Next door were Reverend and Mrs. Hall and their children. Across the street from our house were the Davis children. We played with them all the time. Miss Toomer lived over there. Next to her were the Martins. Julian Bond's family lived next to the Martins. We grew up with his kids, Phyllis, Michael, Cookie, Jeffrey, and Horace Mann Bond III, otherwise known as Manny, who got his name from his grandfather. A block over was the new John F. Kennedy Middle School, where we played, and where I later went to summer school.
The whole area was known as lower Vine City— cheek by jowl with the AU Center of Morehouse College, Spelman College, Morris Brown College (it stood closest; we could almost read the football-field scoreboard from our driveway), Clark College, and Atlanta University. Vine City became the " 'hood" later, after Daddy was killed and integration patterns became widespread and "Negroes," black people, could move, if not to where our hearts desired, then to where our purses allowed. Many did move, leaving memories, the luckless, the Aftermath . . . leaving only a few committed to their memories, or bound by lowering prospects in Vine City. The pendulum swings both ways, though, if you can last, if you can hold on, hang in — if you can remember.
My brother, my sisters, and I would walk down to Sunset and Simpson to a parlor we called Flavor Palace. Flavor Palace had the best ice cream anywhere outside of the deep country, a place with which we were familiar, where ice cream was rarer but homemade, hand-cranked, tastiest with a little vanilla extract and lemon juice added. At Flavor Palace it was almost as good as homemade. They also made Polish sausage sandwiches with onions and jalapeno peppers. I salivate now just thinking about them. We stopped there often. The proprietor, Mr. Patterson, a brown-skinned man with the thin, sculpted mustache favored in those days, often gave us a free taste. I never made a correlation between his generosity and my father's being in jail, but there may have been one. Jalapenos and onions on top of a Polish. He fixed one up and handed it to me. I fished for my meager coins and he said, "No, no, you do good for your fahdah, now . . ."
Egan Homes was around the corner. If you heard somebody lived in the Egan Homes, you felt he was trouble. "Don't mess with them niggas what live over there in them Egan Homes," was often said or implied by the very same Negroes who lived in Egan Homes! They were talking about themselves, to be agreeable; those were accepted words in the better homes in our gardens.