Being Black in Austin

Opinion| A Black Woman’s Open Letter To Austin, TX

Before, I felt out of place; but now I feel right at home. It's time to make a change.

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When I started going to school at the University of Texas at Austin, I became the crown jewel of my family and the envy of my friends. I fully embraced Austin; I watched bats at night, kayaked the beautiful lake that cuts through downtown, listened to my favorite artists live, and ate many gentrified tacos.

Recently I've been uncovering heartbreaking facts about the city and university that I've grown to love. From the 1894 triple lynching, 1928 city plan that concentrated all services for Black residents in East Austin, the many monuments dedicated to Confederate Army Officer George Washington Littlefield and none dedicated to the 200 slaves on his family plantation that made his massive monetary contributions to UT possible, to the fact that West Campus literally sits on a former freedmen's community established after the Civil War.

Austin's scary racist history has multiple events worth mentioning that haven't been mentioned in my three-years of education here. To make matters worse the physical presence of Black Austin has been erased along with oral history they left behind. The African-American population has receded a lot since its peak in 1870 that was recorded at 36.5%. As of 2010, the composition of Austin contained 8.1% African-Americans. This can be attributed to gentrification of east Austin

that has displaced Austin's major Black enclave. The 1928 City Plan aimed to racially zone African-Americans out of the center of the city and into east Austin (it did not apply to the Latinx population at the time though there was discrimination present). The residents had rules about where they could live, shop, and eat that excluded them from the center of Austin. The city of Austin went as far as to cut off basic services to Black residents unless they lived in east Austin. But even in the wake of state sanctioned exclusion and violence, came the vibrant Black East Austin life that included black owned businesses, churches, nightclubs, and shops. Now, all of these places have been swept away in order to serve a growing, suburban, white population.

I feel a new connection to Austin. Not because of the burnt orange that decorates my room, but because Austin has been a very important part of Black history -- my history.

Just like the director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, said "In this soil, there is the sweat of the enslaved. In the soil there is the blood of victims of racial violence and lynching. There are tears in the soil from all those who labored under the indignation and humiliation of segregation. But in the soil there is also the opportunity for new life, a chance to grow something hopeful and healing for the future." As a member of the very small Black population at the University of Texas, I feel strongly connected to the soil that so many have ignored. The vestiges of the past will continue to move throughout Austin in egrigius ways until there is public acknowledgement of the violence that has occurred here.

Before, I felt out of place; but now I feel right at home. It's time to make a change.

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