“Urban renewal is Black removal.” Within the Black community, this common refrain has echoed through the ears of the baby boomers because of what it meant: the family moves and the history of a location is lost. The Black relationship with owning land is often overlooked because of the original genocide, with many forgetting the formation of freedom colonies by former slaves. Those who have participated in an urban renewal project are increasing in age and are usually considered for accounts of the 1960s and 1970s, when it was the most obvious. However, in the City of Austin, there was an urban renewal plan that was approved on July 14, 1999: the New Vision for East Austin.
What does it mean for someone who is told by the local government that his current residence is unworthy of preservation? Making East Austin the “desired development zone” meant that people who had owned their homes for generations were pushed out to make room for what the city, through its policy, deemed desirable residents. Homes were taken through eminent domain, and people were minimally compensated to fulfill the city’s obligation for relocation. Urban renewal and eminent domain caused trauma for a community and denigrated the tenet of homeownership for some people in favor of others; others praised the moves as marks of improvement of “slum” and “blight.”
Join us as we meet with Darwin Hamilton, Austin native and activist most commonly known for his work with Grassroots Leadership, and take a deep dive into his life. Being a younger casualty of urban renewal, Darwin has experience Austin from both sides of I-35 and has worked for the state for twenty years as of this past May. Through the frustration of tangoing with the city and losing, he has worked to create victories for others through the “Ban the Box” initiative as well as working to develop Austin’s Public Defender office. He stands as a reminder that no one lives in a vacuum; however unengaged one might be, politics can find anyone, and in the words of Assata Shakur, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom.”
Note: Most of my memories of the activism came from my research experience, as I was minimally affected by the New Vision for East Austin. Also, The Villager is the Black-focused newspaper in Austin.