“East Avenue” is a collaboration between researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Austin community residents and civic leaders who are committed to documenting and analyzing the past and present of racial and economic segregation in Austin, Texas, particularly as it affects the city’s longstanding African American community. Its goal is to produce new research to help shape initiatives—both legislative and grassroots—that will bring greater racial and economic equality to the city.
The section of I-35 which now cuts through the heart of downtown Austin was once known as East Avenue. East Avenue was the dividing line between white and non-white Austin. Whites lived west of the avenue and Mexican Americans and African Americans lived to to the east of it. But this wasn’t always the case. Prior to 1928, African Americans lived throughout the city in various enclaves. It was only in 1928 when city leaders created the “Negro District” just east of downtown in an effort to confine the Black population to one section of the city. African Americans were compelled to move there because it contained the city’s Black schools, Black parks, and other facilities. Throughout most of the 20th-century, even after the Civil Rights movement brought an end to statutory segregation, this area remained home to the city’s largest concentration of African Americans.
But then in the mid-to-late 1990s, the erstwhile Negro District and greater East Austin, became a primary site for gentrification. By 2010, the African American population was no longer a majority, as many longstanding residents sold their homes to newer, wealthier residents before relocating to the surrounding suburbs outside of the city limits.
Between 2000 and 2010, Austin was the only major growing city in the United States to see an absolute numerical decline in its African American population.
Today a new form of racial and economic segregation has taken hold of Austin. The urban core has been gentrified while lower incomes and poverty have populated the suburbs surrounding Austin proper.
The current research of East Avenue focuses on the specific factors which led so many African Americans to leave the city of Austin over the past fifteen years.