East Austin community shares storied history
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The Ebenezer Baptist Church was founded in 1875.
The church’s name means "Stone of Help." It serves as the community's cornerstone and has brought East Austin residents together for over 100 years. The church moved to its new location, on Robertson Hill, 10 years later.
"They just assume it's just the church on the corner, but it’s not," Griffin said.
For more than four decades, the now retired Rev. Marvin Griffin gave sermons at the church. He says there was always something to do.
Churches like Ebenezer Baptist were responsible for re-writing history and ensuring the survival of Austin's black community. In 1928, the city's comprehensive plan split the city in two.
East Avenue, which is now Interstate 35, became the divide. The comprehensive plan read:
It is our recommendation that the nearest approach to the solution of the race segregation problem... that all the facilities and conveniences be provided the negroes in this district as an incentive to draw the negro population to this area.
Yet out of the edict to contain, music and culture flourished. Many African-Americans made the most of the new surroundings.
"My address may change, but my heart and my feelings are deep within this community," George Washington Carver Museum Director Bernadette Phifer said.
In her post as director, Phifer is eager to share her former neighborhood's history.
"The Victory Grill which was very much a popular place in the 40s, not only for the locals, but for those people coming into town," she said. "We don't forget that the Hill Pharmacy was owned and operated by a black pharmacist and that was quite an accomplishment at the time when it was first built."
The Villager Newspaper opened in 1973. Founder Tommy Wyatt said when Interstate-35 was built in the 50s, it became a real barrier, and most of the black community lived east of it.
"When I came here, my office was still on the street off of 12th Street and Angelina Street, and Angelina Street was a dirt road right off my office and we couldn't get the city to pave the streets," Wyatt said.
The streets still lead back to the community's heart.
"One of the unique things about Austin is that it is willing to change," Griffin said. "I'd like to see a community that struggles continuously to correct the ills that trouble our society."
We've told you about the history. Now on Wednesday, you'll see what East Austin looks like today and the city's vision for tomorrow as our series East Side Story continues.