In Texas’ freedom colonies — African American settlements founded 1866-1930 — descendants of community founders engage in heritage conservation by keeping folklife, sacred rituals, and other cultural expressions that sustain communities’ Black sense of place. However, rural, vernacular African American placekeeping strategies are rarely framed in planning and architectural history as transgressive or expressions of Black liberation.
Presenting an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Never Sell the Land, Dr. Roberts shares case studies in which descendants of Deep East Texas freedom colony founders leverage heritage conservation to revitalize community cores. In contrast with urban cores defined by density and transit, the author conceptualizes freedom colony cores as embodied, rhizomatic, and dynamic. Placekeeping descendants, who live simultaneously in urban and rural Black settlements, act as interstices between freedom colony full and part-time residents, contest local land-use decisions, and rehabilitate properties. Heritage conservation activities sustain the diaspora of descendants’ commitment to and financial support of homestead rehabilitation, land retention, and adaptive reuse of a segregation-era school.
The author will share ways freedom colony descendants co-opt, subvert, and reinvent community cores to resist placelessness and create "free Black space."