HONORING BLACK HISTORY: Six Square and East Austin

Black History Month

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Terry P. Mitchell walks down the streets of east Austin, childhood memories come flooding back.

“There are a lot of memories, so on one hand it feels nostalgic, but on the other hand it’s sad,” explained Mitchell.

She’s a daughter of East Austin, born and raised on East 12th Street not too far from staples like Sam’s Barbeque. Over the years, she’s watched gentrification change the landscape of the place she once called home.

“The reality is our generation let our parents and our grand-parents’ property go, we could have fought a little harder, we could have pushed back on the system and the city if we knew exactly what we had,” said Mitchell.

There is rich history on display throughout the eastside of Austin. But what it doesn’t show is the 1928 master plan. The city’s government created a “Negro District” in what is now Council District One. The purpose was moving all of Austin’s Blacks into one area to save money and solve the city’s desire to segregate the race.

“Six square comes from the 1928 master plan that said black people could only live in a six square radius in east Austin and when I say that to people they say, ‘oh no that can’t be true,'” said Pamela Benson Owens, CEO of Six Square.

Benson Owens describes a dark time in the city’s history as a moment where the true definition of community was a beacon of light and hope.

“It was a time in neighborhoods when you knew everybody, there were no fences up because everybody was really co-sharing in the village and helping to preserve the culture,” said Benson Owens.

It’s a legacy she’s continuing through her work as the CEO of Six Square, an organization and cultural district dedicated to uplifting the community. Through the arts, education and thousands of dollars in financial support to creatives and small businesses during a pandemic, she’s creating a future of abundance for Black Austin.

“It’s about collective and collaborative growth. It’s about uplifting and magnifying and amplifying the brilliance in Black leadership in Austin,” Benson Owens said.

It’s leadership displayed by women like Mitchell, who is intentional about ownership and investments in places like a Black-owned yoga studio on East 12th Street, again, that is not too far from her childhood home. She started the Black Leaders Collective, a think tank that develops and implements plans and policies with city leaders to elevate the Black community.

“For me, the reason why I do it is because if we don’t, who will? I just want to be a mentor and a role model to the next generation that may not see representation and success,” Mitchell said.

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