The Historical Looking-Glass
A Clarksville photo gallery
Gentrification on Austin's Eastside – what with its bars and restaurants and condos burgeoning at every turn – gets a lot of notice these days, but this kind of historical transformation is nothing new for Austin. Just ask the people at the Clarksville Community Development Corporation.
The neighborhood of Clarksville – officially a 10-block area of West Austin bounded by MoPac, West Lynn, 10th Street, and Waterston – has its roots as a predominantly black neighborhood, in fact the first freedman's community (settled and built by former slaves and their descendants) west of the Mississippi, according to CCDC President Mary Reed. In the mid-20th century, affluent whites began to encroach on the land, and in 1978, construction of MoPac removed one-third of the neighborhood. The nonprofit CCDC formed that year in an effort to preserve the neighborhood's history – partially through affordable housing promoting ethnic and economic diversity and partially by means of projects throughout the neighborhood to maintain a close-knit community.
This month, in celebration of Black History Month, the CCDC has curated 21 photos from the personal archives of its founder, Pauline Brown, who moved to Clarksville in 1942 at the age of 14. Brown lost her home to the MoPac construction, so when the city started planning a crosstown expressway that would further gut the area, she became a passionate advocate for Clarksville. She succeeded in her efforts to divert that project, simultaneously played a key role in bringing city services to the neighborhood, and served as the CCDC's president for years. She was given an advocacy merit award by the Heritage Society of Austin in 2002, and the CCDC has chosen to honor Brown's legacy by naming its neighborhood center – which she was instrumental in getting built – after her. "Pauline spent her life fighting to save her beloved Clarksville," Reed says. "She was one of a kind and a good friend."
It seems Brown was as well loved and respected by all her neighbors, and she became the neighborhood's unofficial historian. People gave her photos for the archive over the years; Reed estimates Brown had gathered upward of 100 by the time she died in 2009. Which brings us back to the curated collection honoring Black History Month.
The photos, digitized and framed through a partnership with Artworks, will be displayed just inside the entrance to Jeffrey's restaurant (1204 West Lynn) for the month of February before, Reed hopes, moving to another temporary home or two later in the spring in a sort of miniature tour. Eventually, the collection will migrate to a life as a permanent collection on the walls of the Haskell House (1703 Waterston), which the corporation is working to restore with grants from the Historic Commission. More of Brown's archive will join this inaugural set as time and funds allow.
Reproduced here is a small selection of those photos, each with an explanatory note about the photo's historical significance. We encourage residents from all of Austin's neighborhoods to visit the complete collection while it's on display around town.