Freedom Colonies Program

 

What are Texas Freedom Colonies?

From 1865 to 1920, former slaves founded hundreds of Freedom Colonies, or Freedmen's Towns, across Texas. Since then, a variety of factors accelerated Freedom Colony descendants’ dispersal, leaving behind intangible geographies where structures and populations associated with early African American placemaking have nearly disappeared. However, annual celebrations, land stewardship, and oral traditions sustain enduring commitments to these Black settlements’ survival, even as physical manifestations of place dissipate. Formerly enslaved Black Texans aggressively pursued land ownership after the Civil War in Texas. Clusters of agrarian, land-owning settlements or “Freedom Colonies” emerged from secluded areas. At one time, as many as 557+ settlements existed in Texas alone. Currently, there is an inability to find many of them on maps or in current census records, but they live on through memory, church anniversaries, oral histories, and family reunions.

 

What is the Freedom Colonies Program?

The Freedom Colonies Program (also known as The Texas Freedom Colonies Project) is an educational project preserving the heritage of Texas' African American towns, settlements, and the planners/preservationists that made them possible; Dr. Andrea Roberts is a preservation and planning scholar who founded this project. The program’s purpose is to document place names, stories, and contemporary challenges to retaining these places. Such places include Freedmen's Towns, Black settlements, or urban enclaves.

There are no comprehensive studies of threats to freedom colony survival, documentation of Black Texans’ approaches to placemaking and problem solving, or an official atlas of settlements. The Program is a research and social justice project dedicated to filling that gap. The Program documents how former slaves built whole communities after emancipation and identifies what planners, preservationists, and social justice advocates might learn from our first African American placemakers and their descendants.

In the future, The Program will coordinate mapping projects, settlement assessments, develop evidence-based interventions, host conferences, and provide technical assistance to descendants and planning agencies. The Program is affiliated with Texas A&M University's College of Architecture-Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban PlanningCenter for Heritage Conservation, and Institute for Sustainable Communities.

 

Freedom Colonies Program Mission

Founded by Andrea Roberts, Ph.D., in 2014, the Program’s current mission is to

  • Build growing interactive digital humanities site with a database and map of 557+ Texas Freedom Colonies.
  • Document descendants’ origin stories and contemporary preservation of settlements, churches, schools, and cultural landscapes.
  • Detect strategies descendants use to prevent land loss and build intergenerational wealth. 
  • Document traditions used to transfer cultural and social memory to youth.
  • Conduct interviews and record commemorative events and traditions sustaining descendants’ connections to communities.  
  • Publish scholarship, white papers, and reports to shape statewide planning, recovery, and preservation policy
  • Co-plan and engage in participatory action research with communities to help them reach their preservation and revitalization goals.

Lead: Andrea Roberts

 

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More information:

Home Page

Overview

Texas Freedom Colonies Atlas and Study

Freedom Colony Digital Humanities Projects

 

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