Tillman Ward: Vine City’s Modern Day Oral Historian

Atlanta, nicknamed “Black Hollywood,” is widely known today for modern entertainment juggernauts like Tyler Perry, Usher, Janelle Monáe, and many other Black stars who reside in the Metro Atlanta area. To some, the city’s entertainment appeal may seem like a recent development. However, to legacy residents like Tillman Ward of Vine City, that appeal is nothing new, extending back to days of his youth in the era of the Civil Rights Movement. At the February 19th Virtual Transform Westside Summit, Mr. Ward highlighted some of that history, much of which having taken place at the corner of Vine City’s Sunset Avenue and Magnolia Street in the heart of Atlanta’s Historic Westside.

“The best known entertainment that African America had to offer visited this corner,” said Ward as he stood just feet away from the former site of the Magnolia Ballroom at the historic intersection. He went on to list some of the great performers he witnessed there in their prime—from Count Basie, James Brown, Dinah Washington, and Jackie Wilson, to The Impressions, Moms Mabley, Stevie Wonder, and Chuck Berry. Legends who helped shape the structure of American entertainment, they also helped shape the rich history of Atlanta’s Westside.

Ward then recounted a friendly conversation which took place between two Civil Rights icons at the famous corner. As Dorothy Bolden, founder of the National Domestic Worker’s Union of America, stood waiting for the bus, a young Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pulled up with a smile.

Dorothy!” said Dr. King according to Ward, “I’m going to move over here!” Bolden exclaimed in joyous disbelief, “No you are not!”

Popular opinion at the time was that the King family would land in the Collier Heights neighborhood instead, as it was known to be home to many prominent Black figures of the era. However, Dr. King and Coretta Scott King settled at 220 Sunset Ave. just down the street from the notable intersection and further solidified Vine City’s place in history.

See Tillman Ward’s full segment below.