Future of Black Life in Austin Panel

May 2, 2013

Our second event for the 27th Annual Heman Sweatt Symposium, the Future of Black Life in Austin, drew more than 100 community leaders, students, researchers and Travis County residents concerned about the dwindling population of African Americans in Austin.

Listen to the audio:

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There are similarities between Texas and California when it comes to African American departure. The population of African Americans in California is a little over 5 percent; in Texas, the number of blacks has been dropping since 1900. The difference between San Francisco, where African Americans are 3.9 percent of the population and Austin, is that Austin is the fastest growing city in the country.

Using a combination of data, historical memory and comprehensive researchers, panelists Dr. Eric Tang, a faculty fellow with the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Margo Frasier, police monitor with the City of Austin and others called on the audience to believe in their ability to stem the sweeping change of African American and Latino enclaves in Central Texas.

The data is jarring: A 2011 Austin American-Statesman story by Juan Castillo shows that the combination of property taxes that have quadrupled in recent years, particularly in historically black neighborhoods, has created a diffusion of blacks from the core of the city. There’s been a 27 percent decrease in the African Americans living in Central East Austin in the past decade and a 9 percent decrease in Hispanics living in the same area. The number of whites living in the same area has increased 40 percent.

Dr. King Davis, the panel moderator and director the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, asked: “Are blacks in Austin moving to Pflugerville and other places? If so, what part does the city play in that?”

Shannon Jones, deputy director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, showed that the remaining population of African Americans in Austin — which is at about 7.5 percent — have moved to Bastrop, San Marcos and South Austin. Maps tracking health disparities and mortality rates showed that areas West of Interstate 35 were typically far less impacted by food deserts (areas where access to healthy food is limited or non-existent) and the high health disparities impacting blacks and Latinos.

Tang noted the irony of officials offering government data, though city leaders have not addressed solutions to the numerous inequalities. “People in Austin recognize that this is a problem in the most progressive city in Texas.”

Damaris Nicholson with the Center for Disproportionality and Disparities at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Frasier presented data combined with personal narratives that showed the impact that the numbers had on their working lives. Nicholson talked about working in child welfare services and having to confront her own biases about low-income parents. What she learned, she said, was “controlling for 80 factors, race is the underlying factor for African American students sent through disciplinary measures in schools…If we’re truly concerned (about the future of black life in Austin), we will hit the ground running, identify leaders in the community and build those relationships.”

After presenting data showing the differential treatment in how African Americans and Latinos are treated during traffic stops compared to white and Asian drivers, for instance, Frasier told the audience toward the end of the Q&A session that she had a personal stake in slowing the out migration of African Americans from Central Texas.

“Those of you who have known me for a long time know that I have an African American daughter,” she said. Her daughter is currently attending college in San Antonio. “I dread the day that she tells me that she’s moving because she feels uncomfortable here.”


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