City and community work to preserve Montopolis Negro School

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — From the outside, a building in east Austin may look rundown, but there is more to it. It used to be a safe haven for Austin’s Black community during segregation. The Montopolis Negro School sits near the corner of Montopolis Drive and El Mirando Street.

The history of the school dates back to the late 1800s, but following a major flood in 1935, the original building sitting on what is today U.S. Highway 183 was destroyed.

However, thanks to St. Edward’s Baptist Church donating land to Travis County and what the city says was a two-room army barrack from Camp Swift — the school had a new home and building. 

“It’s not a museum display, it’s the real deal,” Montopolis native Dr. Fred McGhee said about the building. He is one of the community members working to preserve the school’s history. 

“I want my children to have some sense of what it was like to go to a one-room schoolhouse where one overworked, underpaid teacher using cast-off books has to teach dozens of children in one room while the children’s parents are off in the fields working as sharecroppers,” he said.

The school closed following the desegregation of schools, and then the building was transformed to operate as the Montopolis Church of Christ. It was the church for a couple of years before sitting vacant until around six years ago when a developer had plans to demolish the historic site.

McGhee said the community rallied behind the building and called on the city to take action. The city eventually acquired the property through eminent domain.

“It’s become more important than ever to as not just to save historic structures but specifically historic properties and communities of color that are seeing rates of displacement and gentrification that are really hard to wrap your head around,” Kim McKnight, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department’s Program Manager, Historic Preservation and Heritage Tourism said.

At present, the city and community are ready to work together to ensure the story behind this piece of Montopolis history isn’t forgotten.

McGhee said can hopefully be transformed into “something that can not just entertain but educate and inspire.”

Last year, the city and nonprofit Austin Parks Foundation earmarked $150,000 of Austin City Limits funding for the school specifically to develop a plan. Those with PARD said they plan to start those efforts this upcoming spring. In the meantime, McGhee and other community members seek historic landmarking for the school. Saturday morning’s open house will start at 10 a.m. at 500 Montopolis Drive.

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