AUSTIN, Texas -- A new report calls out Austin leaders for a failure to take full responsibility and correct decades of racial injustices.
City government has yet to take full responsibility, much less redress these past racial injustices," said the Report on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities.
Last November, Mayor Steve Adler commissioned the Task Force to explore inequities and racism within city policy in several key areas. They include city policy, education, health care services, real estate, financial services and criminal justice.
"The people who live here today are not responsible for what happened nearly 100 years ago, but we are responsible for dealing today with the remnants of those choices," Adler said.
The report specifically called out a list of examples how Austin policies negatively affected people of color in the 20th Century:
Displacement of "Freedman Towns:" Throughout the twentieth century, Austin’s people of color have experienced waves of settlement and displacement caused by the City and other government entities. One of the earliest was Wheatsville, a settlement of former slaves and their descendants, in west Austin, from which many Black families were removed in order to build the MoPac freeway. Blacks and Hispanic/Latino s were also forced to move into settlements outside of what was then the city of Austin during the 1870’s–1920’s into communities such as Clarksville, St. John’s, and Montopolis.
The 1928 City of Austin Master Plan and the creation of a segregated "Negro District:" The creation of the Negro District compelled the majority of the city’s Blacks to move to the segregated eastside of Austin, and concomitant policies denied them the right to live in other parts of the city. The historic Black neighborhood in east Austin became that area east of East Ave/IH 35, north of E. 7th Street, west of Airport Blvd., and south of Manor Rd. The city’s abattoir (slaughterhouse) was located in this area.
The Removal of Mexican Americans: From 1910 through the 1920s Blacks lived throughout the center of Austin with concentration along the eastern side of downtown, while "Mexican American" households were concentrated in a neighborhood in the southwest of downtown. While some "Mexican American" households remained downtown through the 1940s, most "Mexican American" families arriving in Austin moved into the Hispanic/Latino neighborhood east of downtown – just south of the Black neighborhood—between current day East 10th Street and Cesar Chavez Street, and later down to the Colorado River banks. The completion of the Tom Miller and Longhorn Dams protected the city from major floods but caused the value of their land to increase. “Mexican American” families were pushed into East and South Austin after the value of their land increased because of the successful damming of the Colorado River. Throughout the period, the relationship between segregation laws and the two groups (Blacks and “Mexican American”) was disparate. Whereas Blacks were obliged to move into the Black neighborhood, the “Mexican American” neighborhood developed in a less structured manner. However, measures implemented to enforce and reinforce geographic segregation including real estate deed restrictions and city ordinances prohibited both Black and “Mexican Americans” from buying or renting homes anywhere in Austin outside of East Austin. In the 1930s, the city also voted to build housing projects in ways that would reinforce segregation by building separate segregated housing projects. Also in the 1930s, "Mexican American" residents were pushed to move from “Old Mexico” in order to make room for City and related office buildings. Many of them were placed in the neighborhood bounded by East Ave.,/IH 35 on the west, the river on the south, Airport on the east, and 7th Street on the north. The City’s Holly Power Plant was built in this area during the 1950s (Spence, J., et. al, 2012).
Early Chinese immigrants to Austin were prohibited from owning property: Discriminatory laws denied Chinese immigrants (who were prohibited from citizenship under federal law) the right to own property in Austin. The spouses of these immigrants were often stripped of their U.S. citizenship and its various benefits.
The Industrial Development Plan of 1957 led to environmental racism: The City Planning Commission zoned all property in East Austin “industrial,” including single family residential uses. This ensured that the most polluting industries which were already in East Austin remained there. Furthermore, because of this zoning, few residents were able to get banks loans (red-lining) for repairs or replacement of their original homes, leading to deterioration, which in turn laid the groundwork for gentrification.
The building of IH-35: In 1962, the building of Interstate Highway I-35 created the clearest physical barrier between East Austin and the rest of the City, deepening the racial segregation of the city.
"Urban Removal:" Urban Renewal, which began in the late 1960’s and continued through the 1970s, was a federally funded program focused primarily on areas with majority Black and Hispanic/Latino populations. Brackenridge (1969), University East (1968, Kealing (1966), and Blackshear (1969) urban renewal areas displaced people of color from large areas and turned formerly residential land into parks and schools without providing adequate opportunities for displaced households to return. The urban renewal programs therefore became known as “urban removal”. The East 11th and 12th Street urban renewal program starting in 1994 contributed significantly to the gentrification of Central East Austin with little effort to mitigate the displacement of households with low-to-moderate income.
Recent Zoning: The City continues to permit higher uses in lower zoning categories in the eastern part of the city than elsewhere. In 1991 the City rezoned large areas of the western portions of the Robertson Hill and Guadalupe neighborhoods along with East 11th Street. This zoning is so intense that the Senior Planner reviewing the application commented, "Nowhere in the city, with the exception of the CBD (central business district), are these generous FAR’s (floor to area ratios) used. What about compatibility standards? Doesn’t East Austin deserve the same treatment as other areas of the city?"
Mayor Adler said change will take time, but it must start now.
"It begins with the 200 people who participated in this that are now going to take the insights and what they've learned--the observations--back to their companies, their organizations, their businesses and, frankly, their homes," he said.
There's no timeline for the City Manager to make recommendations based on the report, but city leaders say they will use it as a guiding principle moving forward.
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