By Koreena Malone
Chair, MNA Engagement and Inclusion Committee (from the March 2021 print edition of the Front Porch Flyer)
Part II – Mueller and East Austin History
As the neighborhood started to evolve, so did my conversations about Mueller’s long and underlying issues around both systemic and institutional racism. This means we needed to take a look about how our progressive neighborhood was built and how it is failing Black Austinites.
The racial divide in Austin looked a lot different in our past than it does today. Since Texas was not covered by the Emancipation Proclamation over a quarter million enslaved people were forced here by slave owners. Eventually, Austin ended up with several Freedman’s communities. By 1880 Austin was geographically integrated as black people lived in pockets all throughout Austin.
In 1928, a new city plan was put in place (bit.ly/atxplan1928), the Supreme Court ruled that explicit zoning laws that created segregation are unconstitutional. City leaders at that time got creative. If you were Black and wanted access to city resources like electricity, water, and trash pick up, you had to live in the “Negro District.” The “Negro District” was neatly formed on the east side of Austin to live on land zoned as residential but on top of industrial zoned areas. Coincidentally, in 1928, Austin voters supported a bond election to build a municipal airport which was nestled in East Austin surrounded by the “Negro District.”
By 1940, Austin Census data shows that the once dispersed black population became concentrated in East Austin. Furthermore, after the Great Depression, the federal government started backing mortgage loans in an effort to build wealth. The government backed loans would not be provided for certain “high risk” neighborhoods that were red lined. And neighborhoods with a high concentration of people of color were always red lined. This very action by the federal and local government cemented segregation in Austin, Texas.
The growth and gentrification of East Austin in the last 20 years has swept away historically black schools, churches, and business centers that served as cultural anchors for the black community.
We also know that many black people have been forced to leave East Austin due to rising property values, and thus property taxes, and moved to Pflugerville, Round Rock, Manor, Elgin, Hutto, Taylor, Buda, or San Marcos (northeast and southeast), Texas.
Austin now has a smaller percentage of black residents in the city and there are very little ties between white and black residents. There is an effort to build black businesses, but without a concerted effort from white stakeholders (non-profits, NGOs, developers, and businesses) and leaders in the black community, there will be very little closing of the racial gap.
2010 Census Data
U.S. Census data from 2000 and 2010 reveal a total population growth rate of 20.4%, making Austin the third fastest growing major city in the nation during that decade).
Austin consistently ranked among the fastest growing major cities in the United States, yet simultaneously stood out in one crucial respect: We were the only major city in the United States to experience a double-digit rate of decline in its Black population (bit.ly/austindecline).
In 2007, Mueller started selling its first single family homes. In 2008, Catellus implemented a progressive marketing strategy that centered around the Black community. This marketing campaign aimed at increasing sales made by Black consumers didn’t increase, as per the 2010 census data, Mueller was 90% White.
Wealth Gap and Continued Barriers
Austin, like many urban cities, is experiencing growing inequality, gentrification, and racial economic segregation, and the wealth divide is more exacerbated here than most cities. According to Prosperity Now’s 2019 report on Austin’s Racial Wealth Divide (bit.ly/atxdivide), homeownership is attained by only 35% of Latinos and 32% of Black Austin residents, compared to 52% for Whites.
Black and Latinx homes are worth, on average, $150,000 less than White households’ homes. Black and Latinx incomes have not recovered since the last recession, and trail White and Asian median household incomes by 44% or more. One third of Black and Latinx homeowners and more than half of Black and Latino renters are cost-burdened.
As an organizer, I started looking at opportunities to provide spaces to allow that work in our neighborhood to begin to close the racial wealth gap. This meant we needed to understand the difference between racism, diversity, inclusion, and implicit-bias training.
This is the second article of our series to come, please stay tuned to learn what we are doing to organize and change our neighborhood. If you want to be a part of this movement, please contact, Koreena Malone, [email protected] or [email protected].