AUSTIN, Texas —
The history of African Americans in Texas is the story of Texas and Texans. From musicians to politicians, cowboys to entrepreneurs, this rich and vibrant community played a vital role in shaping the Lone Star State into who we are today. The Texas Historical Commission (THC) offers resources to aid in the telling of these stories, including a mobile app tour that acts as a virtual travel guide, available for download at www.AfricanAmericansInTexas.com. First released in 2016, the app was recently updated to include five new sites that tell prominent, as well as little-known, stories of African American heritage throughout Texas.
The Texas African American History Memorial, dedicated in 2016, is the newest monument on the State Capitol grounds in Austin and recognizes the many contributions of African Americans in Texas. The center of the memorial represents Juneteenth, the day slaves in Texas were officially informed that they had been freed by the emancipation proclamation—which had been signed more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863. Significant people, events, and experiences in Texas—from slavery and emancipation to modern achievements in the arts and science—are highlighted throughout the two-sided panorama. Buffalo Soldiers, musicians, cowboys, businessmen, legislators, aviators, and sports champions can be found in this rich visual history of African Americans in Texas.
The Grand Lodge of the Colored Knights of Pythias Temple was completed in 1916. Designed by William Sidney Pittman, a renowned African American architect, it is considered one of the most distinctive buildings in Dallas’ Deep Ellum district. Pittman, who incidentally married Booker T. Washington’s daughter Portia, moved to Dallas in 1913 and was the first practicing African American architect in Texas. Fraternal organizations such as the Knights of Pythias and Masons helped recognize African Americans for their contributions in Texas.
Samuel Walker Houston was the son of Joshua Houston, an enslaved person owned by Sam Houston. Born into slavery in 1864, Samuel became an educator and, in 1911, he founded the Galilee Community School for African American students. The school was later known as Houstonian Normal and Industrial Institute, then as the Samuel W. Houston High School. The Samuel Walker Houston Museum and Cultural Center shares Samuel Walker Houston’s legacy through exhibits featuring artifacts and photos of the school. Outside the grounds is the “Dreamers” sculpture, a curved, concrete wall depicting 69 faces of multigenerational African Americans. Just over a mile northeast is Emancipation Park, where Huntsville’s African American community has celebrated Juneteenth since 1915.
Just 10 miles northeast of Crockett sits the Germany Community, which earned its name from references to a German family that settled here. The first African Americans arrived in this area as slaves. Following the Civil War, a group of former slaves that included John Burt, George Smith, Lewis Hall, and Van and Jane Benton applied for and received land patents in the area. In 1883, the community constructed the New Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, which doubled as a school and set aside land for a cemetery.
The final addition to the THC’s mobile tour is St. John Colony in Lockhart. This freedmen’s community took its name from the St. John Missionary Baptist Church, founded in 1873, shortly after settlers led by the Rev. John Henry Winn arrived in the area. Across the road from the church is the official marker for the cemetery, which includes the graves of many of the colony’s original inhabitants.
Part of the Texas Time Travel Tours app, the mobile app tours and travel guide are organized around 10 heritage regions in the THC’s nationally award-winning tourism initiative, the Texas Heritage Trails Program. For more information about heritage travel opportunities in Texas, visit www.TexasTimeTravel.com, where you can download the application on your mobile phone or order a free copy of the THC’s African Americans in Texas: A Lasting Legacy travel brochure.