Images are worth a thousand words / Una imagen te ahorra mil palabras.

Mapa federal de zonas de alto riesgo financiero en Austin /
the Austin Redlining Map, 1936 &
A map of Austin School Closures and School Consolidations 2019

Austin, 1936. Home Owner Loan Corporation.

GIS Map generated by Sarah Abigail Axe, marking the schools marked for closures and for consolidation vy consultants hired by Austin ISD.

A coalition of community groups asked the school board to ask prospective superintendent Stephanie Elizalde a set of questions. One of them involved the history of segregation in Austin. This is the question.

What have you learned about the history of Austin, particularly the reality and legacy of the 1928 city charter and previous efforts at desegregation in AISD? What work, if any, should or must be done BEFORE any efforts at integration?

My answer is below. However, the maps above expose the imprint of federal segregation on to the map of school closures and consolidations. The proposed closures almost all happened in the then and now mixed and integrated African American, Mexican American and Mexican immigrant communities in 1936. It is an appalling continuity that highly trained professionals hired by Dr. Paul Cruz would follow the redlining tracks laid out by racist federal inspectors in 1936.

In the 1890s, African Americans ran for state-wide offices in the Republican and the Populist Party.  In 1910, J.T. Canales won the South Texas seat in the State Senate and prompted a wide and far reaching legislative hearing and investigation into lynching and the Texas Rangers. During WWI, the Texas NAACP mounted state-wide campaigns against Birth of the Nation and lynching in this state.  With the passage of the 1921 and 1924 Immigration Act, county judges lost the authority to naturalize residents into citizenship.  And the return of Black and Mexican American veterans to Texas prompted a severe white backlash against Asian, Black and Latina/o communities demanding equal citizenship and return on their military service. These democratic victories and organized white backlash frame the 1928 City Charter.

I use this preface to say that the Master Plan was part of a larger backlash against the organized presence of Black, Latina/o and Asian families in Texas. The 1928 city charter designated the spaces where Black and Mexican families could live and – more important – could not live; the same charter designated the protection of Barton Springs and Zilker Park – making the expulsion of Black and Brown families from publicly funded goods central to Austin’s self-image.  The 1928 City Charter is emblematic of the way “district-wide” policy can be used to disenfranchise, displace, and devalue specific vulnerable communities, and the divide the planners drew still shape possibilities in our city today.

The charter did not operate independently of other forms of public policy. One of the prominent images featured above is the 1935 Homeowner Loan Corporation (HOLC) map of Austin, Texas. This map shows the areas that the federal government designated as too Black, too Mexican, or too immigrant to deserve federal loan protections for mortgages in these places.

What you will clearly see is how this map heavily overlaps with District 2.

The HOLC policies increased the precarious situation for residents, hand-in-hand with local and state authorities, creating the troubling situations Black and Mexican families faced in this district. And this lasted until organized communities pushed the Clinton administration to decide that redlining should be illegal. 

I support a 50-year effort to invest in schools and communities to begin leveling the playing field – investing specifically where there was historically federally sanctioned disinvestment in schools and staff in the district. 

I support culturally proficient, dual language, project based STEAHM (science, technology, art, humanities, math) curricula in Title I and Black and Latina/o majority schools to help students face significant national and global changes such as climate change, demographic transitions, gentrification.

We are in a district where close to 60% of the students are Latina/o, 7% African American, 5% Asian American,  60% are economically disadvantaged, which would almost mean the district is integrated, except that we know this is not true. Per a recent report by IUPRA, Austin ISD is the most segregated urban district in Texas. Rather, doing economic and racial integration when the majority of students are ‘of color’ and ‘low income’ means reviewing what we really mean by desegregation. What we don’t mean is closing schools and bussing children into racially hostile schools, like what happened with Anderson High School and east and urban Austin in the 1980s.

The numbers for our segregated district indicate that the quickest way to integrate schools is to move white high income families into schools with high resources, strong governance, and solid curriculum that is representative of the surrounding majority communities of color, a genuine integration into the emerging majority cultures of the United States.

Integrating schools means integrating and democratizing staff, administration, curriculum, programs and even the board of trustees. Our country has still not experienced this kind of integration, and we are still experiencing a backlash against the desegregation we experienced at the federal level between 2008 and 2016.

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