AUSTIN (KXAN) — “The sign stated that you’re now entering east Austin, land of rats, roaches and blacks,” recalled Barbara Massington, who spent the last 64 years living in the same east Austin house on Cedar Avenue.
She was talking about a sign she saw at Interstate 35 and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
“It was talking about the poverty here, what we went through here,” she explained.
People new to Austin may not know, almost a hundred years ago, the Austin City Council implemented a plan that pushed African-American families to east of I-35, saying that was the only way they could continue receiving city services.
Massington said, “A scar like that runs deep.”
When Huston-Tillotson University Professor Rosalee Martin moved to Austin in the 1960s, she said she was denied places to live because she was black.
“The first time they looked at me and were actually shocked that I was black. I went to Tarrytown. I didn’t know the difference,” Martin told KXAN. “The person stuttered and said, ‘Oh, you didn’t tell me you were black,‘ and said it!”
Now, more than 50 years later, Martin said of the current protests happening all across the country, “Persons were protesting basic inequalities, basically the same thing now. Blacks are not treated in the same way.”
Over the years, Massington said, there’s been some progress.
“It’s changing a lot, and it’s still the same in a lot of ways also,” she said. “I met some good people that didn’t know anything about blacks and stigmatized us and found out we people are just like they are.”
But overall, “We get I think four feet ahead and then we slide back two feet,” said Tam Hawkins, President and CEO of The Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce.
Hawkins participated in marches during what’s now known as the 1992 L.A. Riots.
“I was young. I was hopeful,” she said. “I lived in a multicultural city, and so having to confront the stark reality of what racism looks like up close and personal, it was difficult.”
Since then, there have been many more deaths in police custody and protests, leading to tough conversations between black parents and their children.
Hawkins told KXAN she has a 13-year-old son.
“He has a very strong sense of what’s right and wrong, and to him it’s very simple, and I wish we all could see it, that this is just simply wrong,” she said.
Martin added, “The talk we have with our kids, it’s not just talking about the birds and bees. We talk about how to navigate when a police officer stops you. What do you do?”
Michael Carter who grew up in east Austin said people protesting in Austin should walk the streets of east Austin and get to know its history.
“We’ve been feeling like that since birth,” he said. “They need to come here because we’re the only ones that can tell them what actions you can be taking.”