(Episode 1) Austin has grown a lot in recent years — and the East Side has been impacted the most. To understand the city’s pattern of displacement, we have to go back to 1928.
The full transcript of this episode of Growth Machine is available on the KUT & KUTX Studio website. The transcript is also available as subtitles or captions on some podcast apps.
Audrey McGlinchy I want to start this podcast about housing in Austin by talking to someone who came to the city like so many: with dreams of making it big.
Adrian Quesada My name is Adrian Quesada. I am a musician, producer based in Austin, Texas.
Audrey McGlinchy You’ve probably heard of Adrian, but if you haven’t, he’s played in a bunch of bands in Austin. One of my favorites is Grupo Fantasma. Adrian’s also played with Black Pumas, Brownout. He’s been onstage with Prince and Los Lobos. Anyway, this kid from Laredo moves to Austin in 1995 to go to UT. He lives in student housing for a couple of years, then he moves off campus and starts living with a couple of bandmates.
Adrian Quesada We had an apartment on East Riverside. Really- It was really cheap. I mean, like a couple hundred each.
Audrey McGlinchy About $300 a month each. After a couple of years, him and his buddies moved out.
Adrian Quesada We rented a house up in North Austin, kind of off 51st Street.
Audrey McGlinchy Adrian says this house had a rotating cast of people. But he was young and rent was cheap.
Adrian Quesada Probably around three, three or 400 each. Maybe at some point we were paying 500 each for a full house.
Audrey McGlinchy Adrian says he didn’t really worry about having money for rent.
Adrian Quesada We were never swimming in cash, but we never felt like we were going to get thrown out of the house or anything. We all, we all made rent. Always.
Audrey McGlinchy Eventually, Adrian decided he was done living with a bunch of people. He found a place on his own.
Adrian Quesada Avenue F in Hyde Park, and my rent was $400 there.
Audrey McGlinchy For a one bedroom.
Adrian Quesada For a massive one bedroom.
Audrey McGlinchy In Hyde Park.
Adrian Quesada Yep, it was huge. It was $400.
Audrey McGlinchy You can hear the disbelief in my voice. Sure. This was the early 2000s, but a one bedroom in Hyde Park goes for about 1600 a month now, four times what Adrian paid.
Adrian Quesada The only catch was the, um, landlord, when th- they wouldn’t take care of anything. I think the landlord had bought it for his son when he was in college and just forgot about it.
Audrey McGlinchy So he took advantage of this whole absent landlord thing.
Adrian Quesada I started doing this thing where I would, uh, be so late with the rent. Say I paid it three weeks in, I would figure out a way to like skip two months a year because I would be like- act like that was just the February rent versus the January rent.
Audrey McGlinchy Eventually, an attorney called him and shut down the whole scheme. But the point is, Austin was cheap and you could get away with making it cheaper. After four years in this Hyde Park spot, Adrian met a woman he would eventually marry, and he crossed the river to live with her.
Adrian Quesada She had a condo, a two story condo on Congress and Oltorf.
Audrey McGlinchy Adrian can’t remember what he paid toward her mortgage or if he paid at all. Sweet deal. Anyway, the two got serious and decided to buy a house. They found one just south of St. Edwards University in the St. Elmo area. It was 2004.
Audrey McGlinchy What did you pay for your house back when you bought it?
Adrian Quesada 132.
Audrey McGlinchy $132,000. Homes in that zip code now sell for half a million. But back then, and to a musician on the brink of success, but not quite there yet, that was a lot.
Adrian Quesada That felt like a huge number. That was not manageable. That was, by any means. That was absolutely insane to think of going into that much debt.
Audrey McGlinchy 20 years later, Adrian and his wife have paid off the house and they own a second one, in Lockhart. Adrian says he definitely hustled when he first started out as a musician, but he was able to make it, to move to Austin, play gigs, cover his bills and eventually build a life in a city he loves. He’s not sure that exists any longer, at least for musicians.
Adrian Quesada It’s a struggle for a lot of people. You know, I think multiple people piling into, um, houses and apartments and just hustling all kinds of jobs is, is very much a reality.
Audrey McGlinchy He’s seen musicians move to small towns outside the city, places like Lockhart, Buda, places cheaper than Austin.
Adrian Quesada The surreal thing is that the creative class is what made Austin appealing, and now the creative class is being priced out.
Audrey McGlinchy Adrian thinks about this business near his house. It’s about a ten minute walk away, and he used to spend a lot of time there.
Adrian Quesada There used to be a music lab rehearsal space that all, every band, it was kind of rite of passage to rehearse in this gross place that was just beer soaked and just was nasty in there.
Audrey McGlinchy I can’t make this stuff up. This band space is now …
Tesla Phone Thank you for calling, Tesla. Please hold for the next available agent.
Audrey McGlinchy That’s right. It’s a Tesla showroom.
Adrian Quesada The thing that makes me really scratch my head is, you know, when my wife and I bought a house 17 years ago and decided to start a family, we were scraping by, you know, as creatives. I don’t know how a young creative family would plant their roots and start a family in Austin without having a, like, serious income.
Audrey McGlinchy And if you just ask people to tell their Austin housing story, he’s right.
Austin Resident 1 I first came to Austin in the fall of 1969 to attend UT, and I think my room and board was like $70 a month or something.
Austin Resident 2 In 2007, I found an apartment on Craigslist, on West 10th, for $500 a month.
Austin Resident 3 Between 2008 and 2010, I was not paying more than 650 at the most.
Austin Resident 4 So I moved to Austin in 2011, and I moved from North Carolina, and I moved into a house. Total was like 1100 for a four bedroom house.
Austin Resident 5 A few months later, when his lease was up, and this was 2014, it just doubled to 1600.
Austin Resident 6 We moved down to San Marcos because it was cheaper. But even that started to get pricey.
Austin Resident 7 We were looking around in Austin and that was hard in 2014 and we ended up having to move out to Pflugerville.
Austin Resident 6 I grew up here. I’m from here, was born here, and I can’t afford to really live here anymore.
Audrey McGlinchy Here’s my Austin housing story. 2015, a bedroom in a house in Cherrywood for under $700 a month. Another house with roommates down the street 1100 a month. Moved in with a partner, 500 a month. That was a great deal. Then tiny one bedroom, basically a studio in Hyde Park. 1100 a month. Last year, I bought a condo. Mortgage and HOA fees come out to about 1800 a month.
Audrey McGlinchy Ten years ago, you could rent a two bedroom apartment for $1,000 a month. Families earned about $70,000 a year. Since then, rents have nearly doubled. Wages have not.
News Broadcaster 1 As Austin home prices continue to surge …
Audrey McGlinchy To pay the rent or the mortgage, people forego other things: gas, clothing, food. For those who can’t pay, the consequences can be dire: eviction, foreclosure. For other people, it may mean leaving Austin altogether.
News Broadcaster 2 Prices continue to soar …
Audrey McGlinchy How did we get here? On one hand, the story of housing in Austin is the same in cities across the country. In the past couple of decades, lots of people have moved here. But we haven’t built enough housing for them, at least not in the places where people really want to live.
News Broadcaster 3 The median price of a home just hit a brand new record …
Audrey McGlinchy So prices have gone up, pushing out current residents, mostly people of color, and making Austin a place only the rich can afford.
News Broadcaster 4 A new all time high last month, according to the Austin Board of Realtors …
Audrey McGlinchy I’ve been covering local government and housing in Austin for nearly a decade. I’ve written the same story over and over again.
Audrey McGlinchy In just a year, the median sales price of a home in Austin rose by more than $100,000 … The median sales price of a home in Austin rose by 25% … The city set a record for the highest annual increase in median sales price of homes.
Audrey McGlinchy You know this story. Even if you don’t live in Austin, you know this story of Austin. But let me drill down for a minute. What neighborhood do you live in? Why? Is it because it’s the only neighborhood you can afford or because you bought your house decades ago, and even if you sold it, couldn’t buy a new place? Is it because it’s the only neighborhood where you look around and see people who look like you? If you work outside your house, how far do you commute? Do you bike, walk or drive to work? Do you, like most people who live here, spend an hour in your car alone, each day, getting to and from work? Is all of this okay with you?
Audrey McGlinchy If Austin had one story, that story would be growth. People move here every day, and the city gets bigger and bigger. Not just population, but also geography. The way we as a city have handled this growth, the direction that the city has grown, that’s the bigger story. And to start to unravel it, we have to go back, back in time to consider choices that have built in Austin, that can no longer keep its promises. The promise that you like, Adrian Quesada, can come here, follow your dreams and make it big. Or at least afford to pay the rent.
Audrey McGlinchy I’m Andrew McGlinchey. This is Growth Machine: How Austin Engineered Its Housing Market. Episode one, We planned this.
Audrey McGlinchy For this episode, I’m going to be joined by Marisa Charpentier. She’s also a reporter here at KUT. Hi, Marisa.
Marisa Charpentier Hi, Audrey.
Audrey McGlinchy Back in May, we got invited to this one story house in East Austin. Tan stone exterior, green roof and lots and lots of stories.
News Broadcaster 4 Hi, I’m Audrey. How are you?
Donald’s Aunt? I’m good, good …
Marisa Charpentier We were invited by a man named Donald Dallas.
Donald Dallas That’s my aunt. So it was, this house belonged to her mom.
Audrey McGlinchy Donald is an activist and a teacher. He’s in his thirties and he grew up in East Austin. And this house has been in his family since the 1960s. Here’s Donald’s grandmother, Linda.
Linda Dallas We all lived in this house. Every last one of us, you know, was raised up right here, in this home.
Marisa Charpentier This house is a meeting spot of sorts. On a Tuesday evening, about a dozen of Donald’s family members came and went. Aunts, nieces, nephews.
Dallas Kid Our grandma do stuff for us. She do anything. She’ll buy your stuff for and she will buy a t-shirt for like, for school and like that. And then she’ll buy a school for [inaudible].
Audrey McGlinchy Not quite sure what the last part of that was. But anyway, I sat next to Linda on this deep leather couch and I asked her to tell me a story about growing up here. She immediately got to the juicy stuff.
Linda Dallas My cousin lived across the street from us, up here on Higgins, my grandmother’s house, and she used to sneak me in to Charlie’s Playhouse.
Marisa Charpentier Charlie’s Playhouse was a club that opened in the late fifties.
Linda Dallas Ruthie Mae ’cause she sung there. She was a singer. and she sing- And she took me in there. I was under age. I think I was about, ooh, I must have been about 16, 17 years old.
Sue Dallas … the White Swan. You ever hear about the White Swan?
Audrey McGlinchy This is Linda, sister Sue.
Sue Dallas At 12th and Chicon, uh, the East Room, then, uh, you used to go down to Sea Rose and … we used had a lot of places to go to. You know, we, we used to have a lot of …
Sue Dallas Jam Burger, oh, Jam Burger was …
Linda Dallas Tell me what you know about Jam Burger!
Marisa Charpentier As we’re talking, you can hear the screen door open and shut as people come and go.
Audrey McGlinchy Beyond the door is Loreto Drive, a small street, about two dozen homes, most of them single story. And there’s a streetlight.
Marisa Charpentier When Linda was raising her kids, they would play outside with one rule. Be home by the time the street light came on.
Linda Dallas A lot of times the mom would have to call ’em in, “Y’all get in this house, it’s so late!” They wouldn’t pay her no mind. They still be playing out there. But we had a lot of fun on this street here. Mainly this street, ’cause we knew everybody, you know. All the families knew us too, you know?
Audrey McGlinchy It isn’t that way anymore. Linda says she doesn’t know most of the people on this street. A lot of the old families sold their houses and moved away.
Marisa Charpentier Right now, about 30% of the people in this neighborhood are black.
Audrey McGlinchy 40 years ago, that number was 90%.
Marisa Charpentier Which meant that most of the businesses here were owned by Black people. So it was like a self-sustaining community of Black Austinites.
Donald Dallas That was kind of like the way of life, like, economically here.
Audrey McGlinchy This is Donald. It’s a little hard to hear him. He stood behind the couch.
Donald Dallas So you really didn’t have to go outside in the neighborhood with your daughter because you had everything here, you know. And it was owned by the people that was from here.
Sion Dallas We had doctor’s offices and pharmacy, black owned pharmacies. I don’t know if we had a bank, but, you know, it could have been.
Marisa Charpentier This is Sion, Donald’s aunt. About a decade ago, a lot of new people started moving to this neighborhood, changing the demographics, driving up the cost of housing.
Audrey McGlinchy Sion says she remembers this one encounter she had in 2010.
Sion Dallas We were at the bank, Bank of America down the street, and a guy told us in the bank, um, I don’t know how we got on the subject of, like, the housing market, but he was like, “Don’t ever sell your house if you live in East Austin, because East Austin’s housing market is going to be crazy like California. And he said, give it about ten years and you’ll see. So I always remembered that.
Audrey McGlinchy And so this is going to sound like a dumb question, but when the guy at the bank said that thing to you, was he right?
Sion Dallas He was absolutely right.
Marisa Charpentier Donald, Sion, Linda, Sue. Four generations in this one house and part of this family can trace their history in Austin back even further, to a small community in South Austin called Kincheonville.
Audrey McGlinchy And how this family moved from South Austin to East Austin and eventually away from Austin. That’s what this episode is about.
Marisa Charpentier It’s about why that guy at the bank was right.
Audrey McGlinchy How one decision ended up dictating where a whole group of Austinites could and then couldn’t live.
Marisa Charpentier And it takes us back a century to 1928.
Audrey McGlinchy So can you just introduce yourself to me? Tell me your name, good title.
Edmund Gordon My name is Edmund Tayloe Gordon and I’m an associate professor of African, African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Audrey McGlinchy Let’s start in 1865. The Civil War is over.
Marisa Charpentier Formerly enslaved black people in Texas have learned about their emancipation and start leaving plantations.
Edmund Gordon They’re coming to whatever town is the biggest looking for wage labor, basically, and other kinds of economic opportunities.
Audrey McGlinchy They’re settling in and around cities like Austin, in neighborhoods called freedom colonies or freedmen communities.
Edmund Gordon Relatively prosperous communities. These folks are both producing stuff on their own. Most of them are growing food. You got, you know, small chickens and pigs and things like that.
Gary Bledsoe The leaders of the families would get together and they would try to bring as much of what you needed within the confines of your colony.
Marisa Charpentier Gary Bledsoe is a civil rights lawyer and the head of the Texas NAACP.
Gary Bledsoe Because there was an understanding of the hostility against people of color outside the colony.
Audrey McGlinchy But people still had to leave the freedom colonies for work.
Edmund Gordon Most of the kind of labor that these folks would have been involved in was labor in which they’re, you know, supporting, you know, white households: laundry, cooking, things like that.
Marisa Charpentier In Austin, there were more than a dozen freedom colonies in and around the city.
Audrey McGlinchy Many with names we still use today.
Tara Dudley Wheatville, Clarksville, to a lesser extent, the communities of Gregory Town and Mason Town.
Marisa Charpentier This is Tara Dudley. She’s an architectural historian.
Tara Dudley Learning the stories, especially the sort of forgotten, in some cases, unknown stories. If anything, it helps me feel more a part of that larger narrative.
Audrey McGlinchy As freedom colonies grew in Austin, so did the rest of the city. It’s the state capital, so people moved here for government jobs.
Marisa Charpentier And by 1871, there was a train connecting Austin and Houston. A decade later, the state opened the University of Texas.
Audrey McGlinchy By 1920, there were about 35,000 people living in Austin, nearly ten times as many as there were just after the Civil War.
Marisa Charpentier And the city was also growing geographically.
Audrey McGlinchy The first suburb was built, Hyde Park. Back then, it was a whites only neighborhood.
Marisa Charpentier More and more people are getting around the city in cars. And so there’s a need for infrastructure to keep up, to take Austin into a modern era.
Tara Dudley Everything from paving streets, straightening out streets, crossing the creeks that we were sandwiched in between. In many places, there still weren’t bridges, um, or, you know, sufficient bridges, especially by the time we’re moving from the horse and buggy to the automobile.
Audrey McGlinchy So elected officials in Austin decide the city needs a plan. They hire these two guys out of Dallas, guys by the name of Coke and Fowler, and they come up with a document that’s about 70 pages long. It says Vision: for a new Austin,
Tara Dudley Where schools should be located, where housing should be located, where parks should be located, the bridges and streets. These are the unpaved streets. This is where we should pave them, and so on and so forth.
Marisa Charpentier Planners also recommend that Austin build parks and playgrounds. They recommend a bunch of upgrades to what was then called Barton Springs Park. Things like building a permanent dam to create Barton Springs Pool.
Audrey McGlinchy But the planners and the elected officials that hired them also had something else in mind.
Tara Dudley Really, one of the primary goals was segregation and the separation of people of color from white Austin.
Gary Bledsoe They wanted to get all the Blacks to leave Clarksville and to leave, which we all and to populate in a certain area, uh, for obvious control.
Audrey McGlinchy A key point of segregation at this time is the idea of separate but equal. Although to be clear, it was never equal.
Marisa Charpentier The city makes an economic argument. If Black people are spread throughout Austin, then it has to provide separate but equal schools and parks in all these different neighborhoods.
Edmund Gordon To be able to produce equal facilities, municipal facilities in all of these areas is going to cost a lot of money.
Audrey McGlinchy It’s going to be expensive. And Austin leaders can’t just draw maps and say, okay, only white people can live here. Only Black people can live here.
Marisa Charpentier Even in the 1920s, this was unconstitutional.
Edmund Gordon And so what they decide to do here is the more humane thing, according to them, which is to lure black people out of these communities rather than force ’em out.
Gary Bledsoe The idea was they wouldn’t continue to provide you city services if you refused to move.
Tara Dudley We’re not going to have amenities, so we’re not going to have sewage. We’re not going to have paved roads, we’re not going to have electricity in those areas.
Audrey McGlinchy But there would be city services, schools, parks, maybe even electricity for Black people somewhere else. In East Austin, several blocks East of what is now I-35.
Marisa Charpentier Out of the 70 pages in this master plan, the part that will segregate the city is just two paragraphs long.
Audrey McGlinchy Here’s what it says.
Tara Dudley There has been considerable talk in Austin, as well as other cities in regard to the race segregation problem. This problem cannot be solved legally under any zoning law known to us at present. Practically all attempts of such have been proven unconstitutional.
Gary Bledsoe They wanted to do something like a zoning initiative, but that their lawyers had indicated to them that they couldn’t do it.
Tara Dudley In our studies in Austin, we have found that the Negroes are present in small numbers, in practically all sections of the city, excepting the area just east of East Avenue and south of the city cemetery. This area seems to be all Negro population. It is our recommendation that the nearest approach to the solution of the race segregation problem will be the recommendation of this district as a Negro district.
Gary Bledsoe The unstated word is, we want to put ’em together, and so we want to find the place where they’re located the most. And so it’s, it’s less costly that way. And making that into a black neighborhood.
Tara Dudley And then all the facilities inconveniences be provided the Negroes in this district, as an incentive to draw the Negro population to this area.
Gary Bledsoe It’s not a draw. It’s a forced move.
Edmund Gordon Because we can’t coerce these folks, because it’s unconstitutional, we will bait them into moving into what we have created as an area for them, to contain them in.
Tara Dudley This will eliminate the necessity of duplication of white and black schools, white and black parks and other duplicate facilities for this area.
Gary Bledsoe We want to be separate from you people, make no ifs, ands, buts about it. We don’t have any kind of facility, not just schools and parks. We don’t want to have any kind of facility for Blacks and whites go together. That’s what that sentence says.
Tara Dudley We are recommending that sufficient area be acquired adjoining the Negro High School to provide adequate space for a complete Negro play field in connection with the Negro High School. We further recommend that the Negro schools in this area be provided with ample and adequate playground space and facilities similar to the white schools of the city.
Audrey McGlinchy An all white City Council adopts the plan in March 1928.
Tara Dudley Overall, we’ve seen it was very successful. But it wasn’t, you know, one day they’re here and one day they’re gone kind of thing. But ultimately, as we’ve seen, the plan did work in having most African-Americans moved to East Austin.
Marisa Charpentier By 1930, nearly 80% of Austin’s black population was living in East Austin.
Audrey McGlinchy And in some cases, facilities were actually picked up and moved across town.
Marisa Charpentier Four years after the 1928 plan passed, officials closed the school in Wheatville, a freedom colony west of what is now UT. They also voted to have the school building picked up, like literally dismantled and moved to East Austin and rebuilt there.
Audrey McGlinchy While the city of Austin didn’t on paper force people to move, they were not given a choice.
Tara Dudley You know, not having a paved street, not having electricity, that’s fine. But for me, as a parent, I wouldn’t be willing to have my children cross town going to and from school every day in order to achieve their education.
Gary Bledsoe They did it in a way to where it would appear, where they could have plausible deniability about what their intentions were. And so they didn’t just come out and force you, but they made it to where you had to go, where they could say, well, you have a choice. So they tried to make it that that kind of hocus pocus is what they were perpetrating on the public. But I think that when it’s all said and done, it was really a force.
Marisa Charpentier The 1928 plan, doesn’t directly mention Hispanic people, but it ultimately affected them too. Neighborhoods they lived in west of what is now I-35 were condemned for redevelopment, and low income Hispanic residents eventually moved east.
Audrey McGlinchy Meanwhile, some black families remained in freedom colonies in West Austin for decades, especially in Clarksville. We actually spoke to some people whose families didn’t leave Clarksville until the 1970s.
Marisa Charpentier Whenever they left, whether it was 1930 or 1970, Bledsoe says getting pushed out of these communities would have been incredibly traumatic.
Gary Bledsoe Your support network is gone. Your family network is destroyed. You have to go to different schools and property that you may actually love and cherish is no longer going to be yours, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Not too many things that would be more humiliating than that. And you realize this is not happening to other people, but it’s happening to you.
Audrey McGlinchy And this plan to segregate Austin nearly a century ago, it’s part of a pattern. It’ll happen again and again.
Edmund Gordon These black folks, when they first come to Austin, settle down in the places that white folks didn’t want. And as soon as white folks want them, then they get shuffled off to other places that, you know, where white folks wanted to be. And as soon as those got to be, you know, desirable, then they’re shuffled off to someplace else.
Marisa Charpentier But what happened once all these people were forced to move to East Austin?
Sue Dallas Black people did what Black people do, and they always figure out a way.
Audrey McGlinchy More after the break.
Audrey McGlinchy Within years of the 1928 master plan passing, nearly all of the city’s black residents lived in East Austin. They were not welcome in the rest of the city. They couldn’t go to UT. They couldn’t swim at Barton Springs. They couldn’t get mortgages from the bank. They couldn’t even try on clothes at Scarborough’s, a department store downtown.
Marisa Charpentier So living east of what is now I-35, Black Austinites built their own world.
Brenda Malik I thought the community ended at IH35. And ’cause we had everything we needed right here.
Audrey McGlinchy This is Brenda Mims Malik. She grew up in East Austin in the fifties and sixties.
Brenda Malik We had our schools, we had our businesses. We had our movie, you know, our entertainment.
Marisa Charpentier There was the Harlem Theater, known for its chili burgers and for playing movies you couldn’t see anywhere else in the city.
Brenda Malik Imitation of Life.
Imitation of Life I’d like to hold you in my arms once more, like you were still my baby. All right. Oh. [inaudible] Oh, my baby …
Brenda Malik That played, I believe, twice a year.
Imitation of Life An Imitation. An imitation of Life.
Audrey McGlinchy The Harlem Theater was on East 12th Street. You could get there by riding the trolley that went up and down the neighborhood.
Ada Harden And my brother and I used to, you know, just get on it for the fun of it. I think it was like a nickel or something like that. And we’d go to the end of it, turn around and come back.
Marisa Charpentier Ada Harden is another lifelong resident of East Austin.
Ada Harden My dad owned a service station, body and paint shop and service station, about three blocks down. And it was all on the same street.
Audrey McGlinchy A couple of blocks south. And you hit East 11th Street, the entertainment district.
Charles Ernie That’s where, if you wanted to hear blues or whatever, that’s where you went.
Marisa Charpentier Charles Ernie is a former city council member. He remembers a place called Charlie’s Playhouse.
Charles Ernie They had loud music and dancing.
Charles Ernie I met my first wife in Charlie’s Playhouse.
Audrey McGlinchy There was also the Victory Grill, the Deluxe Hotel. Maybe other people met their wives or husbands at these places.
Ada Harden Those were the good times. Those were the good times.
Marisa Charpentier But in the early seventies, things started to change. For one, the Harlem Theater shut down.
Ada Harden I remember it closed. And then, I also remember that it burned down. So, um, those were some tumultuous times for us because that was also around the time that the high school closed.
Audrey McGlinchy Anderson High School shut down in 1971 because of a desegregation order from a federal judge. Many people who grew up in the neighborhood back then talk about how the push to desegregate the city was the eventual downfall of East Austin.
Charles Ernie What had happened now was that you could go to these other clubs across town that now played the music that only Charlie’s Playhouse used to play.
Marisa Charpentier People started spending money outside of the neighborhood. And black owned businesses started to close. The buildings stayed vacant.
Charles Ernie And a lot of the places were just havens for drug dealers and prostitutes. So now it’s not an entertainment center for the community like it was when Charlie’s Playhouse was there.
Natasha Madison I know a lot of folks don’t want to talk about this, but I remember gangs in old East Austin.
Audrey McGlinchy This is Natasha Harper Madison. She’s a city council member who grew up in East Austin in the eighties.
Natasha Madison I remember, you know, drive bys. I remember our house got shot up. I remember when crack hit communities across this country, it hit historic East Austin too.
Marisa Charpentier Families started moving out of East Austin, and in big numbers. Between 1970 and 1990, about half of the neighborhood’s Black residents left.
Audrey McGlinchy Then in the 1990s, the city started a campaign to bring more development to East Austin. Land was cheap. It had been undervalued for decades, and as downtown got built out, it made sense to start building in East Austin.
Charles Ernie As soon as you start eliminating some of those barriers to development. You can look at downtown. You’re sitting almost a hop, skip and a jump from downtown. It is going to change. The value of that, that neighborhood, because of its proximity to downtown, is just too great.
Natasha Madison I mean, I distinctly remember the first time I saw, you know, a white lady jogging down the street, distinctly remember, I thought she was in trouble. My mom just said, “I think she’s jogging.” You know, I remember starting to see more Anglo neighbors. I mean, I distinctly remember sort of very slowly watching the change.
Ada Harden When the money decided to come into the neighborhood, then the money brought with it the attention.
Audrey McGlinchy Which brings us back to 2010 and the man in the bank.
Ada Harden He said, give it about ten years and you’ll see. So I always remembered that.
Audrey McGlinchy Part of what that man in the bank was probably getting out was that starting in 2000, Austin became one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
Eric Tang It had over half a million people, obviously, and it grew at 20.4%.
Audrey McGlinchy This is Eric Ting. He’s a professor at the University of Texas. He’s talking about Austin’s growth in the decade between 2000 and 2010.
Eric Tang As a general rule, if a city is in double digit growth like that, it shouldn’t see a decline in any major racial group.
Marisa Charpentier What Tang saying is that as the city grows, so does the number of white, Black, Latino and Asian-American residents. The city is getting bigger, and so is the number of people living here across racial groups.
Audrey McGlinchy But by 2010, this was not happening in Austin.
Eric Tang It turned out that African-Americans were the only group during this period of remarkable growth to see losses. And again, I’m not talking just about the share of its population. I’m talking about an absolute numerical loss.
Marisa Charpentier Austin’s Black population shrank by nearly 4000 people.
Audrey McGlinchy That made Austin different than other big growing cities in the U.S..
Eric Tang Cities grow that fast. What does that suggest? And suggests that the city is still a place of opportunity for a number of different people, of different class backgrounds, not just the high income earners. We shouldn’t see these losses, and yet we did.
Marisa Charpentier Tang argues the movement of Black people out of the city can be traced back to the 1928 plan, back to when the city forced black residents to move to East Austin.
Audrey McGlinchy You see, East Austin was a majority black neighborhood into the late nineties. But around the same time, Austin began experiencing a real economic boom. More businesses opened downtown and more workers needed places to live. East Austin was close to downtown and property was cheap. Whiter, wealthier people started moving in. Without protections for current residents, property values and taxes rose.
Marisa Charpentier And those who lived there for decades got priced out. What we’re talking about here is gentrification.
Eric Tang You have to ask yourself, if there were black communities in different parts of Austin, as there are, say, in Houston or Dallas, that it’s not just concentrated in one area, would you have seen, then, the Black population so singularly impacted by gentrification? Probably not.
Marisa Charpentier When Black residents started leaving East Austin, they left the city entirely.
Eric Tang Austin was at the same time becoming less affordable across the board in all areas. And at the same time they’re looking at their housing options and they’re saying, I can get, you know, more square footage and more equity in that home than to try to buy something here in Austin. Plus, there’s not a cultural kind of political draw to being here, in a city where historically I’ve felt like a second class citizen. Why not try another area?
Audrey McGlinchy Like Pflugerville or Manor. Many people moved to these suburbs north and east of the city. 20 years ago, you could buy a house in East Austin for $60,000. Now, homes there sell for ten times that.
Eric Tang Austin’s growth, its population boom, it’s real estate boom. This is all not just recent. It is brand new. And, you know, I think we’re living, you know, the history of the present. This is the moment in which things turn with rapid speed. Right. But, but they’re staged through decades of inequality, promulgated by things like the 1928 master plan.
Donald Dallas I’m, uh, I guess I would say a good representation of of what you would call Black Austin. I’m very known in the community. Um, so yeah.
Marisa Charpentier Remember Donald Dallas? We met his family at the beginning of this episode.
Audrey McGlinchy Donald’s one of many black Austinites who’ve left the city in recent years. He now lives in Round Rock, a suburb north of Austin, where he works as a teacher. Donald says he wishes he could have stayed on the Eastside. But …
Donald Dallas It wasn’t no means of affordability for me to stay on the Eastside. So I haven’t had a place on the Eastside by myself.
Marisa Charpentier Leaving Austin wasn’t easy. Donald comes from a long line of Austinites.
Audrey McGlinchy He can trace his family back to one of the city’s original Freedmen’s colonies. On his father’s side, his great great great grandfather, Thomas Kincheon, founded Kincheonville in the 1860s. It was a farming community in Southwest Austin.
Marisa Charpentier Donald’s family eventually moved to East Austin, which he says was a direct result of the 1928 plan.
Donald Dallas So what my dad and my uncle had told me was they turned off all city resources. They would never come and pave our roads. They would never come and, you know, like, upgrade that area. Um, which caused, caused us and our family and the community in it and in hole to move.
Audrey McGlinchy It’s only recently that Donald learned about this part of his family’s history.
Marisa Charpentier A few years ago, he got involved with an organization called the Black Austin Coalition. They’ve been pushing the city to address what the 1928 plan did.
Audrey McGlinchy And doing this kind of work, Donald says, made him curious about where he came from.
Donald Dallas I have a sense of fight, like, to fight for this town, like, and I didn’t know where that urge was coming from, like, it’s so powerful. And my dad was like, yeah, like you deeply rooted here.
Marisa Charpentier And when Donald talks about his childhood in the nineties and the East Austin, he knew as a kid, he gets this big grin on his face.
Donald Dallas Everything was flourishing. Everybody knew each other. It was, like I say, like it was one big family.
Audrey McGlinchy His family members owned several small businesses and they worked for the city. They were bus drivers and nurses. He says everyone had each other’s backs.
Donald Dallas Like we could start youth organizations and that’d be supported. We can start small businesses and that’d be supported, like with no problem. We didn’t, like I said, we were so stuck in one confined area, we didn’t need no business from anywhere else. Like all the businesses was driving, um, the gatherings, the get-togethers, like, they was amazing.
Marisa Charpentier Donald says this all started to change for him in the early 2000s. That’s when families he’d grown up with started selling their houses.
Donald Dallas So when you started to see your family members, like, disperse, it started to get real. It started to get real, and they was tearing down the houses and rebuilding the with these modern homes. Homes that we have never even imagined seeing. So it started to look, yeah, it started to look wild.
Donald Dallas All right, if we can get everybody to start gathering up over here, if you have on a T-shirt, we want y’all back here if you got a T-shirt on.
Audrey McGlinchy In November 2020, Donald and the rest of the Black Austin Coalition held a press conference. They urged city leaders to recognize Austin’s history of racism and promise to invest in the Black community. They brought up the 1928 plan.
Donald Dallas As we look at historical programs and policy that the city implemented, you will see the underlying mistreatment and why Black districts no longer exist in this city. Systematic racism in official plans like the Negro District of 1928 or I-35 racial barrier has played a role in the removal of black success.
Marisa Charpentier A few months later, the Austin City Council promised to study the issue. They would hire researchers to put a number on how much money Black Austinites had lost because of racist policies, like the 1928 plan.
Audrey McGlinchy Last year, researchers at UT released their first report. They found that when Black landowners living throughout the city were forced to sell and move to East Austin, their descendants lost out on $290 million.
Marisa Charpentier This is a lot of money. And to be clear, this is in today’s dollars. 290 million. The city isn’t planning to pay back descendants of people impacted by the 1928 plan, but they are looking to invest in the city’s current Black residents. They want to help build something called a Black embassy in East Austin. It would be like a resource center that supports Black led businesses and organizations.
Audrey McGlinchy But it’s been more than two years since this plan was announced and there’s still no black embassy. When we asked the city what was going on, a city official blamed the COVID pandemic and leadership changes at City hall.
Marisa Charpentier But for Donald, the city not keeping its promises is nothing new. He says he’s prepared to play the long game.
Donald Dallas As far as, like, the building and the structure and the promises that was kept. We still fighting for it.
Audrey McGlinchy That $290 million just scratches the surface. What researchers have yet to quantify is the social impact of displacement, the loss of traditions and landmarks, the breaking apart of communities.
Marisa Charpentier Donald misses the East Austin he grew up in. He still visits family who live there, but it’s different. And he longs for a place he can’t return to.
Donald Dallas So, like, when that old feel is gone, you know, it feels kind of funny. You know, this is just like when you miss your boyfriend or your girlfriend or, you know, you miss one of your loved ones. That aspect of your life is gone and you can’t get back to it.
Marisa Charpentier But that doesn’t stop him from trying. Donald often drives a half hour from Round Rock to his great grandma’s house to, at least for a while, get some of that old feeling back.
Audrey McGlinchy That was KUT’s Marisa Charpentier.
Audrey McGlinchy In five years. It’ll be the 100th anniversary of the 1928 plan. I talked to people like Eric Ting, Donald Dallas, many of the people we spoke to for this episode. And it’s clear that the effects of this city plan to forcibly segregate Austin’s residents are still very much felt today. When data from the 2020 census came out, This became even more clear, according to these numbers, Austin’s Black residents, along with the city’s Hispanic population, have continued to move east, so far east that people are moving out of the city entirely. And Austin’s racial segregation has continued. In other words, you are unlikely to see people of different races in your own neighborhood. That’s especially true if you’re white.
Audrey McGlinchy The 1928 plan is one example of how people have great power to decide where Austinites, present and future, can and cannot live in this city. In Austin’s history, there have been many more decisions like this one. Maybe not with quite such insidious and racist intentions, but in many cases it’s the unintended consequences that have had the same effect. We’ll look at some of those decisions throughout this podcast.
Audrey McGlinchy Growth Machine is a production of KUT and KUTX Studios in Austin. It’s produced by me, Marisa Charpentier, Mose Buchele, Nathan Bernier, Jimmy Maas, and Matt Largey. Production help from Heather Stewart. Technical help from Jake Perlman. Stephanie Federico is our digital editor. Special thanks to Rich Heyman, Amanda Jasso, Stephanie Lang, Andrew Weber and the Austin History Center. Special, special thanks to Donald Dallas and his family for welcoming us into their home. There’s more at kut.org/growthmachine. I’m Audrey McGlinchy. Thanks for listening.
This transcript was transcribed by AI, and lightly edited by a human. Accuracy may vary. This text may be revised in the future.