PBS has a little 28-minute vignette on the history of civil rights in Austin. I’m familiar with Austin’s sordid history, but I don’t think I understood its realities until hearing it from first-hand witnesses and activists. Austin isn’t just mostly white, it’s violently white. Two stories in the documentary grabbed me.
The first story was the history of Old Anderson high school. I am dismayed that rather than integrating a black high school, the city decided to close it down. They split those kids up and sent them off to bear the emotional weight of integrating white schools. They shuttered a cultural pillar on the East Side rather than force white kids to be uncomfortable. Adding insult to injury, they built a new high school on the (whiter) West Side and named it Anderson but chose to erase the history of the Yellow Jackets, opting for the Trojans instead. That new Anderson high school is less than a mile from my house.
The second was the brief story of the legendary establishment, the Night Hawk. I appreciated it all the more to learn its history of being one of the first integrated diners in Austin. What a powerful legacy. I would love to be remembered for “making it better.” The photos in the video of people at booths reminded me of the booths at the Frisco, another of Harry Akin’s integrated establishments near my house. Sadly, the Frisco closed its doors in 2018, surrounded by luxury condos.
The scars of segragation still remain in Austin –an interstate carves the city in two– and according to one city planner friend of mine, it may be irreparable. The Statesman reports economic mobility isn’t increasing in Austin, whites are pushing minorities out. This year’s census will reflect the impact of Austin’s last decade of explosive growth, I don’t imagine I will enjoy the 2020 version of this chart, but maybe the bizarro timeline will surprise me. FiveThirtyEight (who has never been wrong) wants you to be optimistic that the gentrification of Austin-proper has led to an increase in African-American populations on the outskirts of Austin. That’s all well and good but any Austinite knows a commute comes at the cost of quality of life.
I don’t know how you repair scars that are six-lanes wide made of concrete and rebar. I don’t know how you calculate reparation for ~50 years of city-backed policy designed to create economic oppression and inequality. There’s a lot I don’t know and a lot I have to learn. The one thing I do know is that building a better future is active work.