Often, ethnic identities are noted in historic San Antonio and Bexar County records. At least eight Black enclaves sprang up in all directions beyond the town limits of San Antonio immediately following the end of the Civil War. But, few maps of the city or county specifically label the ethnic identity of Black facilities, neighborhoods, or settlements. Dr. David Carlson, Ph.D, Bexar County Archivist, recently called about a circa 1890 map that he uncovered that clearly labeled a “Negro settlement” in the southwestern part of the county. The road map documents the route southeast from Castroville, Medina County, to Wilson County. A series of deeds, census rolls, aerial photographs, oral history authenticates the existence of a string of south Bexar County Black settlements extending from Castroville to Elmendorf. In addition to houses, the here were churches, schools and cemeteries. This cultural landscape represents a rare, valuable, and untold chapter in Texas and American history.
Each step in reconstructing San Antonio’s historic Black settlements adds to a better understanding of the overall context and authentic depth of the city’s history. Oral history recording sessions were recently completed with descendants of the Hockley, Warren, Clay, Wilburn and Sutton families. The value of the oral accounts is significant because they include not only personal memories, but farm practices, civic activities, civil rights achievements, political legacies, interactions with other groups, and landmarks in San Antonio and Bexar County.
Hope House Ministries hosted Dr. Karida Brown, Ph.D. sociologist and Dr. Lydia C. Charles, Ph.D. cultural historian, to initiate the development of its community museum and archive. Dr. Brown conducted the oral interviews while Dr. Charles began to develop strategies for sustaining the new museum/archive endeavor within the Hope House Ministries mission. The Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill underwrote Dr. Brown’s time and interview transcription work. Texas Public Radio provided professional studio and technical production expertise. Dove Productions provided professional video equipment and technical production expertise. Fly/Hunt provided the research base, historic interpretation and liaison between the resource families.
The ongoing research of San Antonio’s historic Black settlements has revealed aspects of the city’s history that many could not imagine. Oral history sessions with Griffin and other family descendants provided directions to the location of the family homestead site within a modern residential subdivision. One family member recounted that a promise had been made to name a street in the subdivision after the family. It turned out that two streets include the Griffin name. Another family member recounted a family ritual that used a live oak tree as a point of reference. Rivers, streams, trees and other natural features were used as major landmarks in pre-twentieth century way finding and land deed descriptions. During a recent visit to the site the encounter with the majestic oak revived the memory. As it turns out, the oak tree was a landmark at the house site of the family patriarch in the late 1800’s. Without the surviving tree, the location of the house would be very difficult to identify in the present landscape. The adjacent photo includes some of the Griffin descendants standing under the tree, now considered to be a heritage oak (greater than 24” trunk diameter).
San Antonio and Bexar County, Texas are not generally recognized for their Black settlement legacies. The photograph here is connected to history and culture in ways that may not be immediately obvious. This is a multi-ethnic family, on a 304 acre family owned site, with an authentic history that connects to all directions of the south central Texas region. As a Texan, I realize that there is even a story in the body language between the lady and the horse. For decades there has only been speculation of why the traces of this family’s history sat in the midst of a modern residential subdivision. The San Antonio Conservation Society and City of San Antonio Office of Historic Preservation are partnering with Ellen P. Hunt/AIA and me to begin to expose this rare and unique history. The houses, schools and churches that served this group of Black settlements have been demolished. We would not have been able to discover the heritage of the residents had they not owned land. A different set of policies, tools and techniques will be required to preserve place and sustain human legacies. The first results of this collaborative effort will be presented during Historic Preservation Month.
The experience of meeting and engaging the nine other recipients of the 2014 National Humanities Medal this fall has been amazing. Their passions, thoughts, creativity, and respect have stimulated new perspectives on the context of my own work. The most valuable gift has been the unexpected synergy with different medalists. None could have imagined that we share so much common ground, including mutual experiences and human relationships. I look forward to continuing the exchange of ideas, insights, information and opportunities with all of them well into the future.
The discoveries, collaborations and projects of the coming year promise to be exciting and productive. Some will be in my own back yard. Of course San Antonio is known for some remarkable grassroots
organizations and community activists. Innovative partnerships will be part of the calculus for advanced stewardship. Our city is also one of those places that maintains extensive, and remarkable, records that document unique layers of its history and multiple cultures. Resources such as those in the Bexar County Archives will provide opportunities to connect lost heritage to local places in all parts of the county and city. The research and interpretation will have public, private, commercial and residential applications for sustainable urban planning, landscape architecture, and architecture.
I am absolutely humbled to be one of the ten recipients of the 2014 National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Architecture and landscape architecture are not generally considered as traditional humanities disciplines. Over the years I have learned that the ways that people live and organize their society are deeply embedded in the architecture and landscapes they create, whether classical or vernacular. The humanities provide essential content for sustainable and relevant design theory. I look forward to continuing to integrate humanities disciplines into landscape architecture and architecture in as many creative ways as possible.
The Town of Hobson City, Alabama held its first 10K (6.2 miles) recreational bicycle ride two weeks ago (August 15). Atlanta based Bicycle Ride Across Georgia Dream Team Club (BRAG), the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club (MACC), and the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency donated twenty two new and refurbished bicycles and a stationary training bike to the new Hobson City Youth Bicycle Club. Bicycle safety accessories and additional assistance was provided by Fun Wheels, Wigs Wheels, Oxford Lumber, Fly/Hunt, Curtis Strong & D85G, and Triangle Bikeworks. Contact the Town of Hobson City (256-831-4940 ) for 2016 Heritage Ride plans.
The Town of Hobson City, Alabama will inaugurate a 10K (6.2 miles) recreational bicycle ride today (August 15). The Ride will be managed and marshaled by Atlanta based Bicycle Ride Across Georgia Dream Team Club (BRAG), the Metro Atlanta Cycling Club (MACC), the Alabama Bicycle Coalition (ABC), and the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association (NEABA). Mr. C. C. Sykes, a prominent Black businessman, operated a bicycle shop in neighboring Anniston for more than forty years. An adaptation of a 1923 advertisement for Mr. Sykes’ business appears on the commemorative t-shirt for this years Heritage Bicycle Ride. MORE….
This week African American golf pro, Renee Powell, becomes one of the first seven females in the world voted into membership of Scotland’s 260 year old Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Renee joined the LPGA Tour in 1967 and played in more than 250 events. In 1979, she became the first woman to be a head professional at a golf course in the United Kingdom, at Silvermere, near London. Renee’s father, William J. Powell (1916 – 2009), designed, built and operated the Clearview Golf Club in East Canton, Ohio. MORE….
The 116th Annual Hobson City, Alabama Founder’s Day activities (August 14-15) will inaugurate a 10K (6.2 miles) recreational bicycle ride. Hobson City’s Calhoun County Training School was established in 1905. The school’s vocational trade curriculum included bicycle mechanics. African American bicyclist Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor (1878 – 1932) won the world 1 mile (1.6 km) track cycling championship in 1899, 1900, and 1901. African American inventor Isaac R. Johnson received a patent for a folding bicycle frame in 1899. Mr. C. C. Sykes, a prominent Black businessman, operated a bicycle shop in neighboring Anniston MORE….