Reconstructing Black Worlds: Counternarrative Creation as Preservation Practice - A lecture by Dr. Andrea Roberts
From 1865-1930, formerly enslaved Texans founded 557+ freedom colonies, which are now absent from official maps, have lost population, and their building conditions have declined since the Great Migration. Dr. Andrea Roberts will discuss the contemporary status of these Black communities, diasporic identity, co-curation activities, and research findings associated with The Texas Freedom Colonies Atlas. The Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas is a statewide crowdsourcing project which collects stories and memories of disappearing historic black spaces whose populations have been displaced over time through cultural erasure, resource extraction, and natural disasters. The digital humanities platform has become a medium through which users can resist the deliberate forgetting of black places by documenting intangible dimensions of black places or worlds. The platform safeguards users’ multilayered recollections allowing them agency over the reconstruction of black spaces. Selected entries in the Atlas include origins stories, church foundings, Rosenwald School locations, local family names, and manifestations of the affective, embodied persistence of place. She begins with a historical overview of freedom colonies followed by a demonstration of the Texas Freedom Colonies Atlas. During her presentation, particular emphasis is placed on the ways African diaspora theory and Black women’s counternarratives in Atlas entries make visible the complex, emotional and cultural geographies and their worldbuilding in communities presumed placeless or deliberately disappeared.
Dr. Andrea Roberts is an Assistant Professor of Urban Planning and an Associate Director of the Center for Housing & Urban Development at Texas A&M University. She is also the founder of The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, a research & social justice initiative documenting placemaking history and grassroots preservation practices in the African Diaspora. Dr. Roberts brings more than a decade of experience in community and economic development to her scholarship. As a planning historian, theorist, critical heritage scholar, and educator, Roberts trains future planners and preservationists to move marginalized communities’ histories, ontologies of place, methods, and agendas from the edge to the center of practice and policymaking. Her work detects effective, culturally-based planning and preservation practices in historic African American communities, especially those with constituencies and locations, which are difficult to identify. Transdisciplinary in nature, her research works with critical theories of development, planning, human geography, gender and diaspora studies to detect opportunities for bridging grassroots and formal planning in service of historic African American communities. She uses participatory action and engaged ethnographic research methodologies and embraces a variety of knowledge forms such as rituals, annual celebrations, and music. The context in which she is currently working is endangered historic black settlements and towns in Texas called freedom colonies, both on-site and virtually on digital humanities platforms.
Dr. Roberts has written peer-reviewed articles on African American placemaking history and practice, digital engagement, black feminist planning history, intersectionality, and preservation policy. The Vernacular Architecture Forum recently awarded her a 2020 Bishir Prize for her article on black homestead preservation. She is currently writing a book about Black historic preservation practice to be published by University of Texas Press. The Urban Affairs Association recently recognized her Texas Freedom Colony Atlas & Study (http://bit.ly/txfcpatlastwo), a statewide countermapping and urban humanities project, with the 2019 Marilyn J. Gittell Activist Scholar Honorable Mention Award. Dr. Roberts is a 2019 recipient of a National Trust African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant and is a 2020 Whiting Public Engagement Fellow. She is also a 2020-21 Visiting Scholar at Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition. Dr. Roberts earned a Ph.D. in community and regional planning at The University of Texas at Austin, holds an M.A. in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in political science from Vassar College.