LISTEN: Bus Stop Art Installation Honors Austin's African-American History

May 31, 2018

Austin's first recorded African-American resident, who was brought here as a 10-year-old slave, is a focal point of a new art installation at a bus stop at the intersection at 12th and Chicon streets. The installation pays tribute to the city's African-American history.

Bertram Allen is the president of the W.H. Passon Historical Society in East Austin, a historic home that houses materials, artifacts and art pertaining to the city's African-American history.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The display at the Capital Metro stop starts with Mahala Murchison's image.

“She’s on record as the first with a name,” said Bertram Allen, president of the W.H. Passon Historical Society. “The rest of them were livestock. They were property.”

Mahala arrived as a slave to Alexander Murchison in 1839, just a few months after Austin was founded, according to Harrison Eppright, manager of visitor services and tour ambassador with the Austin Visitor Center.

“I do believe that this woman was a very important figure in Austin’s history,” he said.

Mahala Murchinson was brought to Austin as a slave when she was 10. A statue of her sits outside the W.H. Passon Historical Society.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

The installation recalls other aspects of the city's African-American history, with photographs of people such as Lavada “Dr. Hepcat” Durst, a local DJ and community activist; the Samuel Huston College baseball team; and owners of the Harlem Theater, one of only a few movie theaters that blacks could attend.

“I, as a boy, remember well Saturday afternoons at the Harlem Theater,” Eppright said.

Historians and proponents of the installation said it’s an important reminder in a neighborhood that is rapidly gentrifying, pushing out many families who have lived in East Austin for generations.

“Our history is going to the grave. Individuals who have the history are dying, and it’s not being shared,” said Creola Shaw-Burns, who grew up in the neighborhood and was instrumental in getting the plaques at the bus stop.

“It’s important to me that people know we were a very, very influential piece of building Austin,” said Shaw-Burns, who now lives in Wells Branch. “We’re displaced, but we don’t have to be erased.”