Community Organizations Offer Austin History Lesson

The Jewish Outlook

Sep 23, 2020

Pamela Benson Owens. Courtesy of ADL. 

By Renee Lafair

Aug. 18, Shalom Austin, Anti-Defamation League Austin, Temple Beth Shalom, Congregation Agudas Achim and the Asian Chamber of Commerce presented a special program about Austin’s history entitled “The ‘It’ You May Not Get About Austin’s History.”

Manuel Escobar, ADL Austin’s Civil Rights Committee chair, introduced the panel. 

“In order to ensure justice, we must know our present and our past, and how the injustices of the present came to be,” he explained.

kYmberly Keeton. Courtesy of ADL.

The panel included Pamela Benson Owens, acting director of Six Square, and kYmberly Keeton, the African American community archivist and librarian at the Austin History Center. Owens and Keeton provided insight into Austin’s African American history while encouraging more than 200 participants to do their own research on the rich history of the Black and Latinx communities in Austin.

Renee Lafair, ADL Austin’s regional director, moderated the discussion filled with audience questions. Specific mention was made of Six Square, the George Carver Library and Museum, Huston-Tillotson University (the first institution to higher learning in Austin, founded in 1875), Wheatsville (a thriving freedman community), Victory Grill, gentrification of East Austin, and the 1928 Plan, which forced communities of color to move to the east side of East Ave, now I-35. The remnants of the 92-year-old city plan still exist in Austin today. 

Owens explained, “We are still looking at and unpacking the impact of that [the 1928 plan] now.”

A repeated theme of the hour was the opportunity presented by current events. 

“When we don’t take the time to understand the history, and to listen, then we will absolutely repeat what we don’t repair in the historical narrative and right now is a critical time to do that,” explained Owens.

“What I find right now is that we have such an opportunity to learn and listen about parts of our history that we did not know about earlier,” Lafair explained. “I am hopeful because so many people are now asking questions they did not ask even six months ago, and there is a real opportunity for greater understanding and action to build a more just world.”

For more information about this event and for a list of resources covered in this webinar, reach out to ADL Austin at austin@adl.org. ■

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