“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”
June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger proclaims General Order #3, Galveston, Texas
The main exhibit floor at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures dedicates significant space to the African American Texans story. It has seen recent upgrades, including a history wall detailing African American Texans in military service, an interactive digital component offering an in-depth look at the sharecropper house, and modern-day conversations about Black and multi-racial heritage in San Antonio.
Among the stories in the exhibit area, the institute outlines the Buffalo Soldiers, regiments of Black infantry and cavalry raised after the Civil War. Buffalo Soldiers scouted and mapped the Texas Frontier, helped build telegraph lines, protected the mail, and defended settlers. When people use the expression “Send in the cavalry,” they probably don’t realize they’re calling for Black soldiers on horseback to save the day.
Military service offered Blacks the opportunity to improve their station in life. Through military service, they became literate, they learned to ride horses, and they picked up additional skills. When they left military service, they’d often put their riding skills to use as they joined cattle drives. Cowboys, an icon of the Texan identity, were, in many cases, Black.
Sharecropping – Tending the Soil
A prominent feature of the African American Texans exhibit is the sharecropper house. The immersive environment offers a perspective on life in rural and agricultural Texas.
The ITC’s sharecropper house is a genuine artifact used more than a century ago in Navasota, Texas. Inside, it houses additional objects used in day-to-day life such as a 1911 McDade Pottery brazier from Bastrop, an 1800s ladderback chair built by a slave known as “Old Dave” and an early 1900s railroad-style lantern from the R. E. Deitz company.
A digital walkthrough of the sharecropper house is available here.
African American Story Quilts
The ITC connected with the African American Quilting Circle in 2023 and received a set of quilts dedicated to telling African American Texan stories.
The circle prepared a new quilt for the sharecropper house, with material and styling that more accurately represented the period when the house was inhabited.
A quilt entitled “Fabric of a People” depicts several African American Texans stories, with images and captions forming a border around a state map. The quilted map tells stories in its stitching, as the stitches outline images of slaves arriving in Galveston, Buffalo Soldiers exploring the frontier, Black cowboys working the land, and Black communities growing in Freedom Colonies.
You Take It From Here
Born from a collaboration with Advanced Learning Academy students, this exhibit component offers an honest and intriguing discussion on topics ranging from civil rights to gentrification to being biracial in San Antonio. The installation includes three monitors playing interviews the students conducted with their parents, discussing growing up Black and how things have changed in their neighborhoods over the last 20-plus years.