Through pictures, film and storytelling, LaToya Devezin engrossed a full house of students and community members Tuesday evening, as she told the stories of West Austin’s African-American communities.
Devezin, the African-American community archivist for the Austin History Center, spoke at the event Black Austin Re-Membered to explain the history of several historically black West Austin districts and how their histories must be preserved. Districts Wheatville, Clarksville and Kincheonville were established as communities after the Civil War, made up of recently freed slaves who created lives for themselves and established schools, churches and businesses, Devezin said.
“It’s important to remember these histories as we look at Austin, because Austin is this great place that’s welcoming,” Devezin said. “Everyone wants to come here, and it’s like the top on everyone’s list, but, at the top of those lists, sometimes, we don’t see everyone’s experiences.”
Devezin said these communities created a thriving environment for African-Americans, with agriculture making up much of their income, and that UT also played a significant role in the small farm community of Wheatville.
“The demise of Wheatville had a lot to do with the University of Texas wanting to expand westward, and that community was in the way,” Devezin said.
Although families did a lot of hard work, Devezin said, events such as fashion shows and livestock shows served as entertainment for families in the community.
“Life varied in the communities,” Devezin said. “It was very hard. There was a lot of hard work, but people also had a lot of fun.”
Stephanie Lang, visionary of the event and program administrator for the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, said the displacement of African-Americans from West Austin influenced the demographics of the city today.
“Ironically, a lot of people in East Austin are there because of the displacement in West Austin,” Lang said.
Jordan Walters, history freshman and associate events coordinator for the Warfield Center, said he was intrigued to learn more about black Austin, being a UT student and living in the city.
“I think it’s beneficial to know about Austin’s history of freedmen communities,” Walters said. “It provides insight on the transition and the evolution of Austin as a community, and it allows people of color, and just in general, other people in the city, to become aware of the types of people that built the city into what it is.”