Andrea Roberts, assistant professor of urban planning in the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University, has started a project to provide comprehensive documentation of the so-called “Freedom Colonies” in Texas. Freedom colonies were self-sufficient, all-Black settlements that former slaves established after they were freed at the end of the Civil War.
“Africans became hash marks on census reports when they reached America and were enslaved, leaving them, ultimately, without an understanding of their heritage or connection to their homeland,” Dr. Roberts said. “These self-sufficient freedom colonies were established under the most difficult of circumstances by industrious, intelligent and organized people acting much like current-day city planners — and some of their descendants are performing the work of preservationists today.”
Dr. Roberts has identified more than 550 freedom colonies established by the almost 200,000 newly freed African-Americans living in Texas just after the abolition of slavery. Today, some of these freedom colonies still exist as communities and host festivals and celebrations while maintaining connections with the past. However, little evidence remains that some of these colonies ever existed. The project, The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, aims to help African-American Texans reclaim their unrecognized and unrecorded heritage and empower city planners to plan and preserve communities.
“This [project] is about changing the dynamics so that we’re focusing on accountability, and helping people define and reclaim their communities,” Dr. Roberts said. “It’s also about realizing that African-Americans built their own communities, and they should see themselves as part of urban planning, an important field where they are more commonly considered the subject.”