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African-American Heritage

The many contributions of Austin's African-American community are highlighted at George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, 1165 Angelina St. (tel. 512/472-4809; www.ci.austin.tx.us/carver), the first museum in Texas devoted to African-American history. Of interest to many visitors will be its permanent exhibition on the meaning and traditions of "Juneteenth." This is a holiday in Texas, usually celebrated with a parade, picnic, and barbecue, and in some places with a blues concert or hymns. It commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union general Gordon Granger read the Emancipation Proclamation to the public in Galveston, the first time in Texas that the slaves heard of their freedom. Over time, this celebration has become increasingly popular and has spread to other parts of the country, usually through Black Texans who have moved outside the state. Another exhibit, which might still be in place for late 2011 and some of 2012, portrays Austin's African-American community through its neighborhoods, churches, and families.

Less than 2 blocks from the Carver, on the corner of Hackberry and San Bernard streets, stands one of those churches, the Wesley United Methodist Church. Established at the end of the Civil War, it was one of the leading black churches in Texas. Diagonally across the street, the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Austin's first black Greek letter house, occupies the Thompson House, built in 1877, which is also the archival center for the Texas chapter of the sorority. Nearby, at the State Cemetery, you can visit the gravesite of congresswoman and civil rights leader Barbara Jordan, the first African American to be buried here.

In 1863, during the time of the Civil War, a black freeman, of which there were few in Texas, settled down on the east side of Austin and built a small cabin for himself and his family. He built it near the present-day intersection of I-35 and East 11th Street. His name was Henry Green Madison, and during Reconstruction, he became Austin's first African-American city councilmember. The cabin he built was preserved more by accident than by design and, in 1973, was donated to the city, which moved it to its present site in nearby Rosewood Park at 2300 Rosewood Ave. (tel. 512/472-6838). There you can see the Henry G. Madison cabin and how simple and small it must have been for his family of eight. A contemporary of Madison was Charles Clark, a slave who was emancipated after the Civil War and in 1871 founded a small utopian community of freed blacks just to the west of Austin around what is now West 10th Street. It was called Clarksville and is now a mostly white neighborhood still known by that name.

For a more up-to-date look at the Austin scene, visit Mitchie's Fine Art & Gift Gallery, 7801 N. Lamar Blvd. (tel. 512/323-6901; www.mitchie.com).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.