The 19th Annual Historic Preservation Symposium: "Preserving African American History in Texas" February 16-17, 2018. Center for Heritage Conservation, Texas A&M University.



KEYNOTE ADDRESS: “African American History in Texas: Context for Preserving and Conserving Culture and Place”

Everett L. Fly (MLA, FASLA, RA)

Every place, region, settlement, or city has its unique culture and history. Generic criteria and stereotypes are used too often in Texas to evaluate and interpret ethnic minority groups and communities. In some cases, myths and fabrications have replaced authentic content and significance of black history. To date, research and interpretation of African American buildings, landscapes, and physical communities has been extremely limited and oversimplified. Physical buildings and places related to Texas black history have been consciously covered or demolished. A state such as Texas has understandable sensitivity for heroic acts, especially considering the cultures of royalty brought from Europe and Spain. But, many groups of common working African American people have made impacts felt locally, and globally. Texas has unique opportunities to dramatically enhance the authenticity of its culture, and inspire future planning and design expressions, by illuminating black history.

Everett Fly will use his national experiences to deliver an illustrated presentation of ideas on research, interpretation, and active preservation and conservation of black history in the context of Texas’ vast cultural landscape. Fly defines a cultural landscape as a place whose shape, form, components, use or significance has been influenced by human society, actions, or ways of life. The rituals, traditions, and customs of people are expressed in many ways, and become layered on the land. Some expressions and layers, such as legal land subdivision systems and sacred designations, are intellectual. Other expressions, such as roads, settlements, and towns, are physical. Some are subtle and others are obviously pronounced. When intellectual and physical expressions of culture are combined the significance is elevated. When different groups assign some significance to the same places, or landmarks, over history, those sites become even more important cultural landscapes. The presentation will include very current case examples and summaries of authentic sites and events. Mr. Fly will discuss a wide range of sources of documentation and the need for interdisciplinary collaboration.



"African American Heritage in the Brazos Valley:  A Legacy of Love, Longing, Leadership, and Luminosity"

Gwendolyn Webb-Hasan, PhD (Depts. of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development & Teaching, Learning, and Culture, Texas A&M University; Board President, Brazos Valley African American Museum)

A wife and her husband had a vision that developed as a result of moving to and teaching in a very segregated and racist driven Brazos Valley. As African American educators they witnessed and orchestrated a legacy of love as the story of a vibrant community unfolded before their eyes. Their vision to document and celebrate the triumphs and the tragedies associated with being an African American Texan in the Brazos Valley is currently being preserved at the Brazos Valley African American Museum. The personal archive of Mel and Willie Pruitt has blossomed into a detailed collection that encompasses both ancient and modern African American history. In fact, the museum was built on the site of one of the first all-African American schools in a segregated college town in the Brazos Valley region. This session will share some of the highlights of their dynamic journey through a Critical Race Theory and social justice framework.



“Preservation Comes of Age: Neighborhood Change in Houston's Third Ward”

Eureka Gilkey (Executive Director, Project Row Houses, Houston), Lynn Henson, MA, CPM (Planner Manager, City of Houston); Priya Jain, AIA (Dept. of Architecture, Texas A&M University); Assata Richards, PhD (Director, Sankofa Research Institute, Houston; Dept. of Sociology, University of Houston)

Houston’s Third and Fourth Wards have been at the center of a raging debate about gentrification and urban development for the last few decades. In close proximity to downtown, these largely African-American, low-income neighborhoods have witnessed tremendous transformation, both in their built form and their socio-economic and demographic composition. Despite being listed on the National Register in 1986 as the ‘Freedmen’s Town Historic District’, the Fourth Ward was unable to hold on to its built heritage. Today less than 30 of the original 530 listed buildings remain, drowned in a sea of modern townhomes and office towers. The neighboring Third Ward is trying hard to not succumb to the same development pressures. Over the years it has used various innovative tools to preserve both its built and intangible heritage, from radical community art projects with social development motives to using tax-increment financing to buy up land parcels. Perhaps with its more holistic approach to preservation, that focuses more on people than the buildings they inhabit, Third Ward could well be the preservation experiment that the field is waiting for. This presentation will analyze how preservation policy has (or has not) been used an effective strategy to facilitate or prevent neighborhood transition in these historically African American neighborhoods in Houston.



"A Conversation: Seeking Praxis when Preserving African-American Places"

Donna D. Carter, FAIA (President, Carter Design Associates, Austin) and Andrea R. Roberts, PhD (Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Texas A&M University)

Praxis is the space where theory meets practice. For those in fields concerned with the built environment, achieving praxis is a necessity as we endeavor to create more resilient, sustainable places for all. However, what is praxis to those concerned with preserving African American places? Further, how might praxis be reconsidered from the perspective of women and people of color, groups underrepresented in planning and architecture. This session is an interdisciplinary exchange between a planning educator (Dr. Andrea Roberts) and seasoned architecture professional (Donna Carter, both of whom are African American women. The goal of the discussion is to understand the unique social equity concerns which complicate preservation of African American places, as well the ways identity and lived experience shape architects’ and planners’ work with diverse communities.



“Hacking Heritage: Lessons Learned from Grassroots Preservationists”

Andrea R. Roberts, PhD (Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, Texas A&M University)

Hack, to hack, hacking. The terms connote sub-par professional work, a computer security breach or more recently an inelegant improvisation providing surprisingly effective solutions to problems large and small. Grassroots preservationists fall in the last category, developing ways to hack a system often inhospitable or ignorant of the historic significance of little known settlements called freedom colonies. Dr. Andrea Roberts interprets freedom colony “heritage hackers’” preservation practices which include homestead rehabilitation, annual celebrations and rituals, and cooperative cemetery stewardship, all documented through ethnographic and participatory action research in Deep East Texas. She then describes her current project, a mapping and digital humanities portal which will enable descendants to safely “exhibit” intangible evidence of freedom colonies, identify endangered structures, assess threats to settlement survival while reconnecting descendants to their communities and each other.



"The Brazos Valley Manifesto: What's Next for Preservation of African American Places in Texas?"

Roundtable moderated by Andrea R. Roberts, PhD, and Brent Fortenberry, PhD (Dept. of Architecture, Texas A&M University)

This session creates a collaborative idea space to critically evaluate the preservation of African American pasts in Texas. It asks participants to reflect on the dialogues of the 19th Annual Historic Preservation Symposium, “Preserving African American History in Texas,” explore the contemporary practices of African American commemoration, and then brainstorm methods of optimization for the future. Core questions seek to identify the necessary resources, ethics, and alliances needed to make durable African American commemorative sites. The discussion ultimately pushes participants to re-orient their methodologies towards themes of inclusion and diversity in historic preservation practices in the state. The resulting ‘Brazos Valley Manifesto’ will be the departure point for academic and community preservation collaborations of under-represented communities in Texas in the 21st century.