While MLK Day in Austin won’t quite look like it has in past years, there’s still an opportunity for people to come to East Austin and absorb the rich history and culture that Black Austinites have brought to the city — and Austin FC’s inviting fans to be part of it this coming Monday.
United Way For Greater Austin has created a socially-distanced, self-guided walking tour of different landmarks around East Austin, and Kaitlin Swarts, Austin FC’s Vice President of Community Impact and Executive Director of 4ATX Foundation, feels it’s a simple yet important step people can take in learning more about an Austin they might not fully know.
“These are landmarks that help tell Austin’s story, and they’re significant in Austin's history of segregation of the Austin Black community,” Swarts explained. “As part of our Club's commitment to racial equity, we are encouraging our staff and fans to commemorate Dr. King and honor his work by participating in United Way’s self-guided tour of East Austin. Austin FC strives to be inclusive and authentic to the community that we serve, and for us, we believe that starts with educating ourselves.”
Swarts notes that the Club’s involvement in this event harkens back in part to its Oct. 1 invitation to the community to weigh in on what felt important to them as Austin FC began mapping out its racial equity work.
“Certain themes emerged,” she noted, “and one of those themes was our community expressing that they want to see our Club educate ourselves and use our platform to shine a light on our city's Black history.”
The approximately three-mile walk through the heart of East Austin allows participants to see a mix of historical sites and more modern tributes to Austin’s Black culture. Participants are encouraged to start at United Way for Greater Austin’s headquarters at 2000 E. MLK Boulevard; they’ll be able to park there for free, as spaces are available.
The day’s events will also include a short online community moment, reflection, and advocacy call to action at 10 am, which United Way of Greater Austin will host.
In order to keep with social distancing practices, Swarts said that the Club won’t set an official start time or gathering place for participants, but does encourage staff and fans to participate, and, for those who want to wear Austin FC gear, to do so.
And speaking of “The Uniform for Austin” and the campaign showcasing a diverse group of Austinites, the first landmark on the six-site tour is the E. 12th and Chicon mural painted by Chris Rogers.
Rogers, who featured in the Club’s campaign showcasing its first-ever jersey, painted the “We Rise” mural in early 2018 in collaboration with Six Square—which led efforts to reinvigorate the space when, as Six Square noted, “a beloved mural celebrating black culture at 12th & Chicon was removed by a business new to the neighborhood” in May 2017.
The self-guided tour also includes the George Washington Carver Complex, Wesley United Methodist Church, the Texas State Cemetery (which is the final resting place of legendary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan), Huston-Tillotson University (Austin’s oldest university, predating the University of Texas at Austin by eight years), and Rosewood Neighborhood Park.
The tour allows Austinites to look at a part of Austin that’s becoming more familiar to more of them—thanks in part to the bars and restaurants that have sprung up in the neighborhood in recent years.
“East Austin today is a popular neighborhood, with tons of restaurants and bars and new apartments and homes,” Swarts noted. “But this neighborhood was once part of the city’s master plan to segregate Austin’s Black residents and is still home to historically and culturally significant sites. There is deep history behind what East Austin was and still is.
“It's important that we understand the history behind the churches, community centers, parks, the Historically Black College, Huston-Tillotson--what these spaces have meant to Austin’s Black community, a community that has been historically marginalized,” she added.
“Now, more than ever, it's important that we learn about the history of marginalization and help ou our Black community shine a light on the many leaders who are doing the work to increase equity and access to opportunities for all in Austin.”
To see the Self-Guided Walking Tour Map CLICK HERE