The challenge to establish a sense of place remains central to the story of African Americans. Enslavement and the creation of the African Diaspora resulted in the removal of our cultural identities, languages and religions. Since our arrival in America, African Americans have constantly strived to build a community and create a place called home.
The documented story of African Americans in Travis County began in 1839 with the arrival of a 10-year old enslaved girl named Mahala Murchison. Slave labor constructed the city of Austin. In 1860 the enslaved body was worth more than land in Travis County. Prior to 1928, African Americans lived throughout Travis County. The 1928 City Plan for Austin forcefully coerced African American migration to East Austin in an attempt to uphold the separate but equal doctrine from the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson. Though our neighborhoods did not receive equitable resources, we persevered. We created churches, schools and business districts to serve our communities when others refused.
Today, the presence of the proud people who built this community remains. This exhibit seeks to share the stories of our commitment to education, entrepreneurship, heritage and masonry. Together, we created some of the oldest churches in Travis County, the first institution of higher learning in Central Texas, one of the oldest operating juke joints in the United States, and buildings designed by Texas' first licensed African American architect and skilled freemasons. Though this community-curated exhibit does not provide a complete documentation of our experience in Travis County, it does provide an overview of some of our community's oldest families and our legacy.
~ Historical overview written by LaToya Devezin of the Austin History Center
For more information on the African American experience in Travis County and to share your story, please visit the Austin History Center.