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Historical marker in Austin, Texas, commemorating African American involvement in the Texas Revolution
Historical marker in Austin, Texas, commemorating African American involvement in the Texas Revolution
Barbara Jordan, a prominent member of the African American community in Austin
Barbara Jordan, a prominent member of the African American community in Austin

The history of African Americans in Austin dates back to 1839, when the first African American, Mahala Murchison, arrived.[1] By the 1860s, several communities were established by freedmen that later became incorporated into the city proper.[2] The relative share of Austin's population that is African-American has steadily declined since its peak in the lake 19th century.[3]

During the Reconstruction Era, newly emancipated African American slaves began moving from rural areas into towns and cities to establish Freedmen's towns (also known as freedmantowns). Several such communities existed in Austin, including Clarksville, Wheatville, Masontown and Kicheonville.[4]

African Americans have pioneered public safety roles in Austin, including the hiring of the first African American firefighters in the state.[5] African American police officers, rarely seen until the 1930s, were hired by the Austin Police Department since the early 1900s.[6] Officers John Gaines and Tom Allen were the first 2 of 3 officers killed in the line of duty in the history of the agency.[7]

In 1968, Wilhelmina Ruth Delco became the first African American to be elected to public office in Austin.[8] In 1972, Barbara Jordan, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, was elected to the Texas Senate as the first African American since the Reconstruction Era.[9] Due to historic segregation, Jordan was unable to attend the University of Texas at Austin.[10] Ironically, after retiring from a life of politics, Jordan went on to become an adjunct ethics professor at the university.[11] There is now a statue honoring Jordan on the university campus and a boulevard named in her honor.[12] Pflugerville has the largest percentage black population out of all suburban cities in the Austin metro.[13]


Texas was the last Confederate state with institutional slavery until June 19, 1865 following the announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army General Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas.[14]  Juneteenth celebrations were first celebrated in Austin in 1867 under the auspices of the Freedmen's Bureau, and it had been listed on a "calendar of public events" by 1872.[15] That year, black leaders in Texas raised $1,000 for the purchase of 10 acres (4 ha) of land to celebrate Juneteenth, today known as Houston's Emancipation Park. [16]

In 1863, the Henry Green Madison log cabin was built in the name Henry Green Madison, a civic leader and the first African American to serve on the City Council. The cabin was reconstructed at Rosewood Recreation Centre, and was home to Madison, his wife and their eight children.[17]

During much of the 19th and 20th century, Austin and the rest of the United States of America, experienced significant racial segregation. Members of the African American community were faced with legal and systematic segregation of most public spaces and resources, which saw a large demographic shift, forcing many African American's in Texas into East Austin neighbourhoods.[18] Many homes within the within these neighbourhoods were subsequently used as lodges and communal centres for members of the African American community in Austin. [19]

The 1928 Austin City Plan (also known as the Koch and Fowler Plan), was a strategy imposed by the city council to isolate minorities through a creation of a "negro district" and other areas specific to ethnic minorities.[20] Members of these districts were only allowed to access schools and other public services within their identified areas. This segregation was later enforced by the New Deal program that was launched in 1935, excluded the African American community and other minority groups from the benefits of the program, which sought to restore household wealth following the Great Depression.[21]

The Limerick-Frazier House operated as a lodging for African American students and travellers who were excluded from white-owned hotels in Austin during the era of the Jim Crow Laws.[22] The house was owned by John W. Frazier, an African American professor at Samuel Huston College and has a century-long connection to African American History.[23]

The W.H. Passon Historical Society was formed in 1975 to preserve materials, artefacts and historic sites pertaining to African American culture. The society is named after Wesley H. Passon, an educator and prominent churchman who wrote what is believed to be the first published history of African Americans in Austin; a 1907 book commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church. [23]

In 2016, the Texas African American History Memorial was installed on the state Capital grounds. Its purpose is to honour, acknowledge and commemorate Austin's and wider Texas’ African American population, their culture and all of its people collectively and individually. Sculpted by Ed Dwight, the Memorial encapsulated African American history from Early American history in the 19500s to modern day, with reference to significant African American individuals who shaped the community including Hendrick Arnold and Barbara Jordan.[24] The memorial also acknowledges the events of Juneteenth.



Austin is known as the 'Live Music Capital of the World', with the most live music venues per capita.[25] This can be largely attributed to the prominent African American jazz and blues, which can be traced back to the early 1900s. The Victory Grill became the home to the blues and R&B in Austin during the 1940s, featuring live music and weekly screenings of African American movies.[26]

Charlie Gilden, an African American businessman purchased a block on the East Side of Austin during the height of segregation in the 1950s, which included a swanky jazz and blues venue called ‘Charlie's Playhouse’ and an after-hours club called Ernie's Chicken Shack. Hubbard and The Jets, led by Henry “Blues Boy” Hubbard, were the house band for both venues. Hubbard is considered one of Austin's ‘most legendary living musicians’. [27]


The Austin Black Senators were a minor league Negro League baseball team based in Austin during the early 20th century, leading up to the 1940s.[28] Their home ground, Downs Field is currently home to the Huston-Tillotson University and Austin Metro Baseball League. National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Willie Wells played one season for the Black Senators in 1923.


In 1884, the Robertson Hill School, one of the city's first schools for African American children was built at San Marcos and 11th streets. A high school was later added in 1889 before being relocated in 1907 to Olive and Curve Streets, where it was renamed to E.H Anderson High School. [29]

The Coloured Teachers State Association building served African American teachers from 1952 until 1966, when it merged with the Texas State Teachers Association. The group was instrumental in the struggle to desegregate public schools and win equal rights and wages for African American teachers throughout Texas. [30]


Barbara Jordan, an Austin native, was the first African-American person to serve in the Texas Senate since its reconstruction, and served from 1966 to 1972. She was also the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress from the South, serving from 1972 to 1978, and was the first woman to deliver the keynote address at a national party convention (Democratic Convention in 1976 and 1992).[31] To commemorate her achievements, there are statues of Jordan placed at Austin's airport and on the University of Texas campus.


The Rosewood courts were the first housing projects built for African Americans under the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 and were established as part of the New Deal, which was lobbied by the then congressman Lyndon Baines Johnson. [32]

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ "African Americans in Austin, TX - a brief history". Retrieved 2022-02-15.
  2. ^ Fri.; Oct. 20; 1995. "The Clarksville Effect". Retrieved 2022-02-15.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Fri.; Nov. 21; 2021. "The Gold Dollar Building and Black Erasure". Retrieved 2022-04-01.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ "City of Austin - Austin History Center: Freedman's Towns". Retrieved 2016-04-12.
  5. ^ "Austin honors barrier-breaking Black firefighter who died in line of duty". KXAN Austin. 2021-07-23. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  6. ^ Caldwell, Clifford R.; DeLord, Ron (2012-09-18). Texas Lawmen, 1900-1940: More of the Good and the Bad. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62584-077-6.
  7. ^ "Officers Killed in the Line of Duty |". Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  8. ^ McCartan, Anne-Marie (2017-01-11). Unexpected Influence: Women Who Helped Shape the Early Community College Movement. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4758-2866-5.
  9. ^ "JORDAN, Barbara Charline | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  10. ^ "Barbara Jordan". 2011-07-16. Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  11. ^ "Barbara Jordan". Legacy Project Chicago. Retrieved 2022-02-16.
  12. ^ Faires, Robert; Fri.; April 24; 2009. "The Barbara Jordan Statue at UT". Retrieved 2022-02-16.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ "U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Pflugerville city, Texas".
  14. ^ Gates Jr., Henry Louis (January 16, 2013). "What Is Juneteenth?". PBS. Retrieved June 12, 2020
  15. ^ Wynn, Linda T. (2009). "Juneteenth". In Carney Smith, Jessica (ed.). Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience.
  16. ^ Mustakeem, Sowandé (2007). "Juneteenth". In Rodriguez, Junius (ed.). Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World. Routledge.
  17. ^ Barnes, M. (2015). A Cabin in the Park.
  18. ^ Austin American Statesman. (2012). Retrieved from
  19. ^ National Park Service. (2021). Retrieved from
  20. ^ Koch & Fowler (January 14, 1928). "A City Plan for Austin, Texas" (PDF). City of Austin.
  21. ^ Austin American Statesman. (2012). Retrieved from
  22. ^ Fremon, D. (2000). The Jim Crow Laws and Racism in American History. Enslow.  National Park Service. (2021). Retrieved from
  23. ^ a b W.H Passon Historical Society Pamphlet. (2016). Retrieved from
  24. ^ Texas African American History Memorial. (2016). Retrieved from
  25. ^ Austin Government. (2007). The City of Austin. Austin City Connection.
  26. ^ Phan, N. (2017). Blues & Soul Music. Retrieved from
  27. ^,Blues%20Boy%20Hubbard%20%26%20The%20Jets.
  28. ^ Durst, A. (2020). Dr Hepcat. "TSHA | Durst, Albert Lavada [Dr. Hepcat]".
  29. ^
  30. ^ Tillman, Linda C. (2009). The SAGE Handbook of African American Education. SAGE. pp. 68–. ISBN 9781412937436. Retrieved 29 April 2013.
  31. ^ Clines, F. (2016). "Barbara Jordan Dies at 59; Her Voice Stirred the Nation". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  32. ^ Tuma, M. (2016). Living History: Rosewood Courts. Retrieved from