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African Americans

Object Type: Folder
In Folder: AF Subjects


Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves created by the W.P.A. As part of the New Deal National Writers Project in 1937, journalist Alfred Menn interviewed formerly enslaved persons and transcribed their narratives, which produced a volume of over 300 pages. The narratives recount the lives of people, some very old at the time of their interviews, many of whom had toiled in the fields and worked as craftsmen or domestic servants.

The 1928 Austin city plan (also known as the 1928 Austin master plan) was commissioned in 1927 by the Austin City Council. It was developed by consulting firm Koch & Fowler, which presented the final proposal early the next year. The major recommendations of this city plan related to Austin's street plan, its zoning code, and the development of major industries and civic features, but it is most remembered for institutionalizing housing segregation by designating East Austin as the city's "negro district". Koch & Fowler submitted their finished proposal to City Council in January 1928, in a document titled "A City Plan for Austin, Texas". The 80-page report included a large section on the development of the city's street plan, another on the design and placement of municipal parks and other urban green spaces, and a number of shorter sections on other public amenities such as public schools, cemeteries, fire stations, and a proposed civic center. Other sections discuss the development of the city's railroad and streetcar networks, the desirability of a municipal airport, the establishment of a new municipal zoning code and rules for land subdivision, and the city's integration into the development of the surrounding region. Creation of the Negro District on the land targeted in the 1928 Master Plan was enforced by the city’s land use regulation. The legalized segregation of African Americans by the 1928 Master Plan evolved into the effective and real segregation of African Americans and Latinx people in East Austin. The "pull" incentives recommended in the city plan were complemented by "push" incentives when the city avoided extending the sewer system or paved roads into the existing freedmen communities elsewhere in Austin, and real estate "redlining" also pushed African Americans east of the central city. By 1932 almost all of the city's black residents had relocated to East Austin, and the other black communities across the city had largely disappeared. This pattern of racial housing segregation persists in Austin to the present day.

Photos documenting the first ambulance service in Austin, Texas

Media documenting the original L.C. Anderson High School which thrived as the pre on Austin’s East Side. In 1971 the school was ordered closed by a federal judge as part of desegregation.

Photographs from the Austin Files collection documenting The Austin Braves, a Minor League Baseball team in the East Division of the Texas League and were affiliated with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves. Known as the Austin Senators from 1956 to 1964, they played at Disch Field. In 1965, they became the Austin Braves,

Photographs of baptisms within the African American Baptist church community from the Austin Files collection

Photographs documenting Blackshear Elementary School from the Austin Files collection

Media documenting the Civil Rights era of the 1960s in Austin, Texas from the Austin Files collection

Photographs of Clarksville from the Austin Files collection. Clarksville is just northeast of the intersection of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and West Tenth Street in west Austin, Travis County. The land, containing streams and steep hills, had previously been part of a plantation owned by Governor Elisha M. Pease. It is said that Pease gave the land to people he formerly had enslaved with the vain hope that they would remain near his mansion and be available for further service. Clarksville was founded in 1871 by Charles Clark, a freedman who changed his name from Charles Griffin after emancipation. Clark bought two acres of land from Confederate general Nathan G. Shelley and built a house on what is now West Tenth Street. He subdivided his land among other freedmen to start a community outside of Austin. Despite its isolation Clarksville came within the jurisdiction of Austin early in its history. Early Clarksville has been described by its older residents as a wilderness broken by an occasional dirt road and train tracks laid by the International-Great Northern Railroad in the 1870s. The Sweet Home Baptist Church served as the community meeting center. The church was organized in the home of Mary Smith on the Haskell homestead sometime before 1882, when the congregation purchased land on which to build a church. Rev. Jacob Fontaine served as the first minister. Elias Mayes, a black state legislator from Grimes and Brazos counties in the Sixteenth and Twenty-first legislatures, lived in Clarksville as early as 1875. He built a home on land purchased from Charles Clark in 1884. Many Clarksville residents worked in the cotton industry or farmed; others held jobs in surrounding communities. Leroy Robertson owned and operated a community store. In 1896 a school at Clarksville had an enrollment of forty-seven. In 1917 a new one-room schoolhouse was built and named Clarksville Colored School. It offered six grades. Early in the twentieth century developers began to realize the land value of Clarksville, which lay near growing downtown Austin. Austin city policy aimed to concentrate the local black population in the east, and pressured black communities in west Austin, such as Clarksville and Wheatsville, to move. In 1918 the Austin school board closed the Clarksville school. Clarksville residents were later forced to use city services in east Austin or none at all. The 1928 master plan of the city of Austin recommended "that all the facilities and conveniences be provided the Negroes in this district, as an incentive to draw the Negro population to this area." Most Clarksville residents endured the lack of services, however, and refused to move. The community did experience two small emigrations to California, the first during World War I and the second in 1943. Clarksville maintained its school, which enrolled sixty-nine students in 1924, sixty-six in 1934, and seventy in 1940. Sometime in the 1960s the school building was moved to O. Henry Junior High School. The Sweet Home Baptist Church was rebuilt for a third time in 1935. Until 1930 Clarksville residents used kerosene lamps, and the community remained surrounded by woods. In later years Clarksville began to feel the pressure of Austin's expanding White community, which filled the surrounding area with spacious, middle-class homes. In 1968 Clarksville residents unsuccessfully protested a state and local plan to build a highway along the Missouri Pacific Railroad, which extended along the western boundary of Clarksville. The completed MoPac Expressway cut through the community, causing twenty-six families to be relocated. Twenty-three families left of their own accord. The number of homes in Clarksville decreased from 162 in 1970 to less than 100 in 1976. Residents of Clarksville began requesting Austin city funds for the improvement and preservation of their community in 1964, but dirt streets crossed the area until 1975, and a creek carrying sewage periodically flooded homes. In 1975 the Texas Historical Commission designated a two-block-wide strip of Clarksville as a historic district, and the city paved the streets with asphalt. In 1976 the Austin City Council approved the use of $100,000 from a federal housing and community-development grant to pave streets permanently, improve drainage, and expand the playground in Clarksville. Another $100,000 was designated for housing rehabilitation. The same year Clarksville residents and supporters defeated a plan to build a thoroughfare through the community connecting Interstate Highway 35 and the MoPac Expressway. The Clarksville Neighborhood Center, the third community center in Clarksville's history, opened in 1976 to provide information and referrals to community members. The center, remodeled from an old home with volunteer labor, also served as a base for community-improvement projects. Land values in Clarksville rose with the municipal improvements, and in 1977 a development company began buying lots and building houses that attracted a young, predominantly middle-class White population to the community. Rent costs subsequently increased for the older residents. The Clarksville Community Development Corporation, formed in 1978, worked to establish community services and low-cost housing in the area to retain its black population and promote the return of former residents.

Clarksville Elementary School from the Austin Files collection

Photographs documenting East Austin Elementary School from the Austin Files collection

Photos documenting the June 19, 1900 Emancipation Day celebration in Austin, Texas

Photos documenting African Americans at Emancipation Park

Photographs documenting enslaved persons from the Austin Files collection

Using an 1891 map, 9 of the 12 early freedmen communities are shown in the shaded areas. The boundaries for these communities are based on documentary evidence found in the Austin History Center archives.After the end of the Civil War, many formerly enslaved people migrated to Austin and settled in local communities, usually on the east side of town. These communities, known as freedmen communities, became established African-American neighborhoods and grew in population during the late 1800s. The 20th century saw them begin to decline, due to gentrification, city redevelopment, and other external forces. Some of these neighborhoods still exist today and have historical designation

Photos documenting African Americans in Austin and Travis County from the Austin Files collection

Media documenting the Harlem Theater, from the Austin Files collection. he Harlem Theater opened in October of 1935. It was owned by an African American named George F. Jones and was patronized by African Americans. It was later taken over by the Luccahese family, still catering for African American patrons. The Harlem Theater operated for almost forty years. The theater burned down in December 1973.

MMedia documenting Huston Tillotson a private historically black university in Austin, Texas. Established in 1875, Huston–Tillotson University was the first institution of higher learning in Austin. The university is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, and the United Negro College Fund.

Photographs documenting the Miss East Austin pageant during the 1960s from the Austin Files collection

Media documenting public school board members from the Austin Files collection

Media documenting Rosewood Park from the Austin Files collection. Rosewood Park is located along Boggy Creek in the center of East Austin. The land was originally a homestead settled by local storeowner Rudolph Bertram in the 1870s. The city purchased the property in 1928 for $13,500, opening Austin’s first public park for African Americans there two years later. Since its inception, Rosewood Park has served an indispensable role in the lives of the local community and continues to provide the neighborhood with a grand public space for recreation. The city established the “Rosewood Avenue Park and Playground for the Colored” in East Austin in accordance with the 1928 Kock and Fowler City Plan. Conversely, it barred public services, including parks, to African Americans living other parts of Austin.

Photographs documenting the Sims Elementary School from the Austin Files collection

Video documenting Six Square from the Austin Files collection. Six Square – Austin’s Black Cultural District (formerly known as Austin’s African American Cultural Heritage District) is the first black cultural district in the state of Texas and the only cultural arts district in the city of Austin. The organization was created in 2013 as an outgrowth of the City Council’s African American Quality of Life Initiative, which detailed widespread disparities, racial biases, and a decreasing Black population. Since inception, Six Square has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for African American residents through preservation of historic Black spaces, artistic cultivation, and by serving as a catalyst for social and economic development.

Photographs documenting St. Johns Elementary School from the Austin Files collection

The Blue Bellies are in Austin: Readings from the Travis County Slave Narratives imbue life into the words found on the pages of the 1930s era oral history manuscripts. Words tinged with pain and suffering, the fear and yearning, the pride in tradition and family, and the resonating sorrow of those who had been born into slavery. Blue Bellies highlights just 7 of the 65 individuals interviewed in Austin and Travis County during the Works Progress Administration's Federal Writers Project. Historic black and white film and photographs from the archives of the Austin History Center and other repositories illustrate the words of this last generation of enslaved individuals. And these words have been given voice by talented local actors: Carla Nickerson Adams, Jennifer Cumberbatch, Miss Marlah, Curtis Polk, Noel Kent Smith, and Boyd Vance. A DVD 306.3620922 BL

Photographs of Wheatville from the Austin Files collection. Wheatville, the first Black community associated with Austin after the Civil War, was located at the western edge of Austin on former plantation land. The boundaries of Wheatville corresponded to present 24th Street to the south, 26th Street to the north, Shoal Creek to the west, and Rio Grande Street to the east. James Wheat, formerly enslaved, from Arkansas, brought his family to the area and founded the community in 1867. In 1869 he bought a plot of land at what is now 2409 San Gabriel Street and became Wheatville's first landowner. Wheat raised corn in a site now bounded by Guadalupe, West 24th, and San Gabriel streets. Wheatville residents worked mainly as domestics in White households, merchants in the community, and as semiskilled laborers in the Austin construction industry. A few blacksmiths lived in Wheatville, and some residents farmed and raised livestock. George Franklin, also formerly enslaved, and a carpenter, purchased land at the site of present-day 2402 San Gabriel in 1869 and constructed a stone building with walls four stones thick. Now known as the Franzetti building, it became the center of the community as subsequent owners used it to house families, grocery stores, various other businesses, and churches. Jacob Fontaine, a prominent Baptist minister, settled at Wheatville in the late 1860s. The St. John Regular Missionary Baptist Association, organized by Fontaine and originally named the Travis County Association, convened at Wheatville in 1868. Fontaine and his family lived in the Franzetti building periodically from 1875 to 1898. In 1876 he used it for the office of the Austin Gold Dollar, an early Black newspaper. In 1889 Fontaine organized and opened the New Hope Baptist Church at the site. It moved to another location in Wheatville several years later. In 1904 the Pilgrim Home Baptist Church organized at Wheatville. The Wheatville community had what was probably an informal school in 1876, attended by sixty-six students. In 1877 the Travis County Court designated surplus building funds from its sixth district for the building of free public schools for African Americans. Two schools, one at Wheatville, the other in East Austin, were built. The Wheatville school opened in 1881. W. H. Passon, a prominent Black educator in Austin, served on the school staff and later became principal. In 1896 the school had an enrollment of sixty students. In 1904 ninety-seven students attended the school.

Photographs documenting Wheatville Elementary School from the Austin Files collection

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