Wednesday, November 15, 2023

City of Austin Planning and Parks & Recreation Departments are both Honored with Preservation Austin Special Education Awards 2023


For Work with African and Mexican American Communities in Austin  

The Preservation Austin’s 2023 Annual Preservation Merit Awards program honored both the City of Austin’s Planning Department and the Austin Parks and Recreation Department with Special Education Recognition Awards for projects that preserve cultural heritage and local history in the African American and Mexican American communities. 

The Planning Department, with consultants Open Chair, The Projecto, and Cultural Strategies, received an Award of Special Recognition in Education for the Translating Community History Project. Members of two community stakeholder groups that guided the project were also recognized. 

The Translating Community History project celebrates historically significant African American and Mexican American neighborhoods in East Austin. It features resident portraits and present-day stories interwoven with archival materials. The resulting publications, short videos, and banners in community spaces celebrate rich local heritage from the past to today. The project also included focused community outreach and National Register of Historic Places nominations for Huston-Tillotson University and Parque Zaragoza. It was funded in part by a National Park Service Underrepresented Community Grant. 

“The Translating Community History project brings a new approach to historic preservation—one that’s centered on how people’s stories connect to place over time. We’re pleased it’s been recognized with a Preservation Merit Award and hope to continue similar work with the Equity-Based Preservation Plan,” said Lauren Middleton-Pratt, Director of Planning. 

Translating Community History recognizes the longstanding impact of Austin’s 1928 city plan, which restricted public services for African Americans to East Austin, even as new downtown development forced Mexican Americans east. Over the next decades, the City provided subpar municipal services to East Austin and federal dollars funded I-35 to solidify the east-west divide. Despite these challenges, East Austinites established thriving neighborhoods, prosperous business districts, and religious and cultural institutions. 

As development pressures rise in East Austin, historic preservation aims to stabilize communities by slowing demolitions, retaining smaller houses, and celebrating the stories that give places meaning. 

The City of Austin's Parks and Recreation Department received an Award of Special Recognition in Education for the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel's digital history exhibit To Emancipate.  

To Emancipate gives context to the lives of enslaved people brought to Austin beginning in the 1830s. Those who were enslaved, and their children, were buried at Oakwood Cemetery as their final resting place after emancipation. Through generations of brutality, poverty, and struggle, their descendants survived and some thrived. These ancestors are known through family stories, recipes, photographs, and records.  

The project includes oral histories of cemetery descendants, an interactive map of Freedom Communities in Austin, biographies, and photos. The museum exhibit The African American Presence in 19th Century Texas by the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center is reproduced in part. The project contributors included Christopher Ndubuizu, Sarah Grace Monroe, Valore Lott, and kYKymberly Keeton; and was peer-reviewed by Dr. Jacqueline Smith-Francis. 

“While we are honored to receive this award, it is the voices and stories those who lived under enslavement and their descendants who are in the spotlight. This project, To Emancipate, is a testament to the resilience and rich history of Austin's African American community, and we are humbled to have played a part in sharing these narratives." said Kimberly McNeeley, Director of Austin Parks and Recreation.