THE TEXAS FREEDOM COLONIES PROJECT ATLAS & STUDY
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When asked to identify the most critical moments in Black history, Americans’ typical responses include Emancipation, the Civil Rights movement, and the election of the first African American president. However, respondents are less likely to mention freedom colonies. Freedom colonies (FC) are historic African American settlements which are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, absent from public planning records, and lack access to the funding and technical assistance afforded incorporated, mapped areas in Texas. From 1865–1920, African Americans founded 557 self-sustaining FC settlements throughout Texas, of which 347 have been mapped. Initially, Texas’ FC were ‘‘individually unified only by church and school and residents' collective belief that a community existed” (Sitton, Thad & Conrad, James H., 2005, p. 18). Many FC, unfortunately, disappeared from public records, maps, and memory. These settlements’ populations, historic buildings, and visibility declined after World War II; a lack of estate planning made their landowners vulnerable to land loss. Sprawl, climate change, and gentrification have also destroyed these once secure, self-reliant communities. Furthermore, most formerly enslaved Texans settled in the only areas available to them--bottomland in low-lying areas (Sitton, Thad & Conrad, James H., 2005, pp. 23, 29) often in the path of hurricanes. The Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas and Study is a digital humanities platform and survey which crowdsources, maps, and aggregates freedom colony place, heritage, and social geographic data. The platform serves simultaneously as an online archive of various forms of "place evidence" in order to make visible to policymakers, researchers, and descendants of settlement founders, these endangered, historic spaces and places. This is the BETA version of the mapping tool used for testing and improving the current tool before its expansion.
DescriptionWeb Site Description: Andrea Roberts, Texas Freedom Colonies Founder and Director, and her research team at Texas A&M University are excited to announce the launch of The Texas Freedom Colonies Atlas along with the Mapping Communities and Cultures Survey. From 2014 to the present,The Texas Freedom Colonies Project founder, Dr. Andrea Roberts has documented Black settlement heritage and grassroots preservation practice among descendants of these historic communities. Freedom colonies (an umbrella term for Black settlements, Black towns, enclaves, or freedmen's towns) are everywhere--hidden behind the pine curtain of the rural countryside and underneath the concrete landscapes of Houston, Dallas, Austin, and Beaumont. Until recently, planners have overlooked unmapped freedom colonies located in rural or unincorporated areas. Inspired by her own familial roots in freedom colonies, social justice, and the book Freedom Colonies by Thad Sitton, planning scholar, Dr. Roberts makes these places visible through her participatory action and ethnographic research. The result: old voices given new purposes, old stories making new maps, old places made visible and relevant. During Dr. Roberts' research process, she recorded origin stories and grassroots preservation practices. After co-researching with descendants, she was able to create the map above, which contains 34 located freedom colonies! If there are 34 in two counties, how many are there throughout Texas? Having determined what it would take to document every freedom colony in the State, she directed her research team to develop a new crowdsourcing mapping tool. Our research team has 557+ freedom colony place names recorded, and 357 locations mapped.
SubjectAfrican American Studies
ROBERTS, ANDREA; biazar, MJ (2018). THE TEXAS FREEDOM COLONIES PROJECT ATLAS & STUDY. Available electronically from
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