By April Garner, THC Heritage Tourism Program Coordinator
The Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) popular heritage travel guide African Americans in Texas: A Lasting Legacy will become the agency’s first mobile app tour. Expected to launch in December, the mobile app will feature new content and human-interest stories that bring the history of places to life through audio, slideshows, and video.
Filming for the mobile app began this summer when THC Heritage Tourism Program staff visited the freedmen’s community of Shankleville in East Texas. The trip occurred during the Shankleville Annual Homecoming, a celebration held yearly since 1941 that is now organized by the Shankleville Historical Society. Through interviews and event filming, descendants and residents provided an insider’s view of the rich legacy of community founders Jim and Winnie Shankle, whose story began in slavery.
Preservation is a high priority for the Shankleville Historical Society, which conducts research, oral histories, and educational programs. The group’s annual college scholarship program requires finalists to present oral essays on a theme inspired by Shankleville values and designed to perpetuate knowledge of Shankleville’s heritage. Homecoming raises funds to sustain the community’s two historic cemeteries.
A major preservation project of the Shankleville Historical Society is the restoration of the Addie L. and A.T. Odom Homestead, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. The National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded a grant for an architectural assessment and preservation plan for the house and contributing outbuildings.
Fundraising is underway for the restoration work and to repurpose buildings into a museum and community center. The Odom Homestead is also the site of the Purple Hull Pea Festival that takes place every summer. This well-attended event hosts a marketplace, cooking contests, games, and a symposium on preservation and the foodways of deep East Texans.
Learn about Preserving the Freedmen’s Communities of Texas
In 2015, the symposium at the Purple Hull Pea Festival will be dedicated to promoting the heritage of the 500 freedmen’s communities or freedom colonies that once existed throughout Texas. Andrea Roberts, a planning and historic preservation doctoral researcher at the University of Texas–Austin, is working with the Shankleville Historical Society to establish a freedom colony association. The association would facilitate the exchange of shared challenges descendants encounter and retention methods for historic and capital assets, as well as develop strategies to raise money for preservation, education, and advocacy efforts. To learn more about the July 2015 event in Shankleville, or to participate in Andrea Roberts’ doctoral research on freedom colony placemaking, contact her by email.
Additional Mobile App Tours
In addition to the mobile app tour complementing the African Americans in Texas travel guide, the Heritage Tourism Program, through TxDOT enhancement funding for the Texas Heritage Trails Program, is developing mobile tours on the Red River War, historic Bankhead Highway, Texas in WWII, historic downtowns, and Hispanic heritage of Texas. Mobile tours will be individually launched throughout 2015.