Digitized racial geography tour makes Austin’s racist history more accessible to the masses

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Isaac Womack

Austin’s racial history will soon be accessible with a single click.

After almost a year of planning and preparations, a guided digitized version of Austin’s racial geography tour will launch Feb. 25. Led by Edmund Gordon, founding chair and associate professor of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, digitizing the tour is an effort to increase accessibility and keep up with high demand. The online tour will feature new demographics and expand to include the history of Wheatville, now colloquially known as West Campus.

“(The tour is) looking to see how it is that race — and to a certain extent gendered ideas and notions — get built into our physical environment,” Gordon said.

He said the digital tour will have some advantages over the walking tour.

“Each tour stop will have a supplementary essay, bibliography, photograph or video associated with it,” Gordon said. “There’s much more information that’s going be offered than can be offered during the in-person tour.”

Along with the time-shift factor, the digitized tour will also include more information than is offered on the physical tour. The physical tour generally lasts an hour and a half, which is only enough time for Gordon to relay half of the information. Through the digitized version, which includes 360 video, Gordon said more information will be available to supplement the tour.

Psychology and black studies junior Isaac Womack, who serves as a research assistant for the tour, has been gathering information focusing on Wheatville’s racial demographics since last September.

“I’ve learned how fast history can fade if no one pays attention to it,” Womack said. “I’ve come to appreciate the art of research and preserving memories in history, especially of communities that aren’t always necessarily put in the forefront of remembrance.”

Womack said it’s very important for students to have access to this type of research because the past and present play an integral role in shaping the future.

“I’d like students to become aware of the ever-changing dynamics of race at UT and how that’s played a part in the geography around UT Austin and Austin in general,” Womack said.

Journalism junior Jacqueline Briddell, who went on Gordon’s Racial Geography tour last semester, said it was an eye-opening experience and built on her preexisting knowledge of UT’s racial history.

“Little things I walk by everyday and think of as insignificant actually have a really saturated racial history,” Briddell said. “If you look at the Tower there are some symbols on the Tower that mean something. Everything is connected in a way that leads back to racist history.”

Briddell said she is grateful that she had the opportunity to attend the in-person tour and that Gordon’s insight will extend beyond UT and become accessible to more people.

“I think we talk about black studies in a very national and international context, but nobody ever talks about UT’s racial history or geography,” Briddell said. “Going on the tour was really important for me to think about black history in our context. There has to be some sort of information out there that’s easily accessible.”