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For Juneteenth, Bastrop residents sew their history into quilts

The descendants of formerly enslaved people who settled in Bastrop County after Juneteenth are displaying two quilts this week that tell the story of their ancestors.

Juneteenth celebrates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston learned they had been freed, years after the Emancipation Proclamation was officially signed.

After emancipation, many formerly enslaved people scoped out areas where they could build their own communities, often called freedom colonies or freedmen’s towns. Bastrop County became the site of more than a dozen freedom colonies, with names like Cedar Creek, Hopewell, Piney Creek and Hills Prairie. Many of these historic communities remain today and are home to the descendants of those original settlers.

Doris Williams is one of those descendants. She’s also the founder of the Bastrop County African American Cultural Center, where people are working to take down oral histories and collect cultural artifacts related to the local freedom colonies. Williams, who studied history in the 1960s as one UT's first African American students, said these stories are largely absent from official historical records.

“African American history is missing. We didn't get it in high school. We didn't get it in college," she said. "So our group said, ‘We will take the lead.'"

The Bastrop County African American Cultural Center is currently housed in the historic Kerr-Wilson house, although it's raising money to build a new facility. Alongside the center’s permanent collection, two colorful quilts now hang inside the little white house. They’re story quilts, with each block honoring the history of a freedom colony.

Belinda Davis is among the 22 freedom colony descendants who helped create squares for the quilts. Her square tells the story of Joseph Morgan, who is recognized as the first African American to settle in Bastrop after emancipation. He founded the Piney Creek freedom colony and helped start one of Bastrop’s first churches, Paul Quinn AME Church. Davis grew up hearing the story of how after slavery ended, Morgan was determined not to spend a single day more on the plantation where he was enslaved.

“I wonder how long it took to get the word all the way to Bastrop," Davis said, "but when he heard about it, he was out."

Like many of her peers, Davis had never quilted before getting involved with this project, “Piecing Together African American History in Bastrop.” But she was intrigued by the idea when Janis Bergman-Carton, the programs manager for the cultural center, brought it to the table. Bergman-Carton also invited two quilt artists from the African American Quilt Circle of San Antonio to help Davis and her peers bring their family histories to the medium, which holds significance in African American history.

One of the quilt artists, Deborah Harris, said she was fascinated to hear stories from Bastrop residents who could trace their lineage back for generations.

“We caught their fever, and hopefully we did a good job capturing their energy and in putting it together in these blocks,” Harris said.

Davis said she hopes these quilts and other exhibits at the cultural center will help preserve the stories of Bastrop’s freedom colonies for many generations to come. She said she wants her grandchildren — and their grandchildren — to know about Joseph Morgan’s struggles and triumphs, how after finding shelter in a cave on the bank of Piney Creek, he went on to own land that belongs to his descendants today.

“We’re standing on the shoulders of these strong and courageous people,” she said. “This is our legacy. This is proof again that we are a worthy group of people.”

The quilt exhibit is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Wednesday. After that, the exhibit will be available for viewing on Saturdays or by appointment.

Olivia Aldridge is KUT's health care reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @ojaldridge.
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