Javier Wallace’s family has lived in the Austin area for over 200 years. In the early 1830s, when Texas was still a part of Mexico, his family arrived as enslaved people. Wallace, a PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin, shares some of his rich family history through Black Austin Tours, a company he founded in 2019.
“At the core, the work I do with Black Austin Tours is to honor my ancestors and give them the humanity they were often denied when they walked this earth,” Wallace says. “More importantly, I want people to know that they were here. That we are here. We weren’t just enslaved people.”
During the pandemic, Wallace has been offering 90-minute virtual tours on Saturdays. In these live virtual tours, Wallace uses the art of storytelling, maps, photos, videos, and documents to bring Austin’s Black historical sites alive.
Black Austin Tours is just one group in Texas focusing on sharing and celebrating Texas’ African American history.
Just a few hours north, George Keaton is relaunching his nonprofit Remembering Black Dallas tours on Feb. 20 with new social-distancing rules in effect.
“Our tours have a collaborative educational component and real life historical and learning experience for local individuals and school students to physically explore and experience the present and past of Dallas,” Keaton says.
Participants can sign up for a tour on Eventbrite and follow Keaton in their respective cars to different historical sites in Dallas while connected by conference call. At some places, like Freedman’s Cemetery, guests are permitted to get out of their cars as long as they wear a mask and stay socially distanced.
The context Keaton and Wallace bring to their tours is essential to understanding the past better.
“Black people have been a part of this state during every period, from colonial times to the present. However, our perspectives have not been valued by mainstream narratives or the architects of Texas history,” Wallace says. “What Black-owned tour providers and Black guides provide is a different perspective. We have preserved and narrated our stories uniquely.”
As more Black-owned tour companies arise across the state, Texas cities are also coming up with innovative ways to celebrate African American stories with locals and visitors. Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau launched a new self-guided tour on their Visit Galveston app that shows institutions, monuments, and sites that celebrate Texas’ Black history.
“Black history is American history, and it is important for the Galveston community and visitors to not only remember this but see and experience it,” Galveston Island CVB chief executive officer Kelly de Schaun says. “Now that we’re in a time of social distancing, a self-guided tour seemed to make sense.”
The African American History Tour—found under the “Itineraries” section of the app (which is available on Android and Apple)—has 22 stops. Each stop offers a photo and details, plus the opportunity to add the location to a personal map. Sites include Jack Johnson Park, with a statue honoring the World Heavyweight Champion John Arthur “Jack” Johnson, who was born in Galveston in 1879; as well as Old Central High School, Texas’ first African American high school, which opened in 1885.
Other notable sites include the Juneteenth marker and statue, and the Osterman Building, where Union Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 freeing all enslaved people in Texas on June 19, 1865.
These tours not only showcase the contributions of African Americans to Texas culture and society, but they also provide tangible connections to our collective past. “In order for one to move forward in life they must know where they have come from,” Keaton says. “We align our mission with this quote by [Jamaican activist] Marcus Garvey: ‘People without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.’”