Clarksville and Congress Avenue, Austin Texas
After my hour-long, morning walk in Ladybird Lake followed by a shower and change; Virginia took me on a tour of Clarksville, the oldest surviving Freedman town west of Mississippi. It was established by former slave Charles Clarke in 1871, who bought the land from then Governor Elisha Pease. He also purchased land from from Nathan Shelley, a Confederate general and after building his own house sold the rest of the land to other freed slaves.
The area became the community of Clarksville and the Sweet Home Baptist Church was and still is the cornerstone of the community. As a result of gentrification only three Black families still reside in Clarksville, with homes in the area priced at $1 million and above, well outside the financial reach of most Black residents. We visited the Sweet Home Baptist Church, which has a community garden to the rear and we also visited the Hezikiah Haskell House (pictured above), a union soldier and ‘Buffalo’ soldier and member of the Black Cavalry. The house was sold by a descendant to the City of Austin, where it stands as a national landmark and reminder of the cultural roots of the city and the struggles of freed slaves who sought to build a community after years of enslavement. Today Clarksville is managed by Clarksville Community Development Corporation under a nine-member board of directors.
After my visit to Clarksville, I then headed for Congress Avenue, where I did some shopping, stopping in the trendy boutique Impeccable Pig, where attentive assistants helped me choose a cute dress and denim shorts! The 32 degree heat discouraged me from walking any further, so I stopped at Perlais for lunch inside the cool, air-conditioned restaurant, where I enjoyed attentive service, complimentary calamari, a huge cheeseburger, fries and a cold Stella Artois. It’s just as well I’ve been doing a lot of walking during my US visit!