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African-American Oral Histories

Tommy Wyatt
Clip 1: Transcript

Changes in East Austin

Running Time: 5 min 9 sec

TW: I think what you have is a dispersement, a dispersement of economic class. I think what happened is, in East Austin or Central East Austin however you put it, I think what you have now is many of the people who were in the upper income bracket of the African American community no longer live here, because they don’t have to. They can, you know, get better value for their money in real estate in other parts of town, but in the early days when I came here, you know everybody lived in this community. And so whether you were an upper income physician or a lower income janitor you all lived in the same neighborhood, see? But as, as the, when the Public Accommodations came in, the people, the physicians and attorneys and, you know, dentists, all the people were able to buy houses on Cat Mountain, in far west Austin, northwest Austin and Balcones, and that’s what they did. You know which they should have because that’s where they could afford to live and that’s where their property value was better.

But at the same time, that left this community stripped of much of its economic resources. And so what you had left over here were just the low-income families and the public housing and people in the low income housing, and us in the lower part of the, the lower middle class. Not the upper middle class, more lower middle class. So as far as the economics it hasn’t changed that much, it’s just dispersed is all. And so when you take that kind of resource out of the community it leaves the community lacking in a lot of ways. That’s why many of these businesses we talked about that were open are closed, because the people who had the resources to support them are no longer here.

AS: You said something about the buildings over here taking twenty years to get them to build these buildings over here. What buildings were you referring to?

TW: Just the buildings right down the street. When you go back down 11th Street you’ll see they’re building two new buildings right down there, large, kind of high-rise for this area, you know. And the thing that we were into was what they call the revitalization of this community. And so we, when the community started to change and the city started to change, that’s when the groups went in and said we need to revitalize this area. And that’s when the economic development, the Federal Government came in with all this economic development money that you could bring into a community. And what would happen is the City of Austin would apply for the economic development money. Every year they’d get it, but they wouldn’t spend it here. They’d spend it somewhere else. See, once the money comes in they used it where they saw fit, although they applied for a specific area.

And so, and so now that’s the problem you have now, the reason that they’re really finally trying to put some money down there, is that is, we are considered where we sit now, is part of downtown, the central downtown business district. And so they don’t want the blights and eyesores in the downtown business district, so they go to-- See, when they put the Marriott Hotel, right here on the corner of 11th Street, when you go back that way look at the east side of the Marriott. There’s not a window on that side of the hotel. They didn’t put windows on that side of the hotel because they didn’t want their patrons to look into the blighted area of East Austin. You know, it just was not a pretty sight and they didn’t want their customers to have to see that. So that’s the only side of that hotel that doesn’t have a window. There is no window on the East side of the Marriot Hotel and that’s why they wouldn’t put one there.

So that’s how bad the community looked at the time, because with people moving out and business closing and then tearing it down, and stuff wasn’t tearing down was falling down, and you know it just looked terrible. Now, on the east side of the expressway we had contacted a company called Business Properties to come in and they wanted to build a major shopping center right there on I-35 and 11th Street, between 11th Street and 8th Street there. And the city wouldn’t permit that to happen. The city council wouldn’t permit it to happen. We fought that for about, almost ten years, with a proposal on the table, and the city would not permit it to happen. So after it went away we went back and said, “Well if you’re not going to permit private enterprise to come in, the city has to do something,” you see? And finally they agreed to put those buildings over there, so now within the next ten years there should be eight or ten buildings like that over there. They already got the plans for them, just coming off down there.

But the only problem with that is in the process of the wait, in the wait, the African American community lost all of their property through condemnation or through people who just didn’t want to be bothered with it anymore and just sold it for a little bit or nothing. You know you look up ten years from now and a property, a lot that was worth $5,000 will be worth $250,000, you see? Which means you just gave that property away, but the people just got tired of fighting issues, so they’d just say, “You’re not going to do anything anyway so give me my money and I’ll go,” you know?

“Oral Narrative as History.” Students received class credit for this work, and were under the supervision of Dr. Martha Norkunas, director of “The Project in Interpreting the Texas Past.”

Every effort has been made to transcribe the audio recordings exactly. On occasion a word, or phrase, was difficult to hear and this is indicated by a question mark in brackets.

Tommy Wyatt

Tommy Wyatt

Amy Steiger

Date of Interview:
April 15, 2004

The Villager office, 1223-A Rosewood Ave., Austin, Texas

Recording Format:
Analog tape

Amy Steiger