Juneteenth reveals Austin's shrinking African-American population

A small crowd hears about Juneteenth history at ACC's Eastview Campus. (KEYE TV)

Friday, Austin got a jump on Juneteenth. And the shrinking emancipation celebration is calling attention to Austin's ever-shrinking African-American population. But while African-Americans keep leaving the city, some things like Juneteenth still bring them back.

It is true fewer Austin families are celebrating Juneteenth these days. UT Professor Eric Tang says a study he co-authored finds in recent years a large number of Austin African-Americans moved out of the city and they felt forced out. Tang says, "Many of them moved because they felt they had no choice. The city was just too unaffordable and the schools are underserving their kids. And they felt on the whole that this wasn't the Austin that they grew up in."

The affordability crisis hit everyone, but what Tang calls "extreme gentrification" saw high-priced apartments replace inexpensive family homes in old East Austin. Tang stresses, "African-Americans were hit first and hit hardest."

Community newspaper publisher Akwasi Evans agrees with the findings and suggests long-term underemployment of African-American men put any financial solution out of reach. Evans says, "African-American males have been historically absent from the workforce in Austin. That's been the problem with the family and that's been the problem with the exodus from the city."

Tang's study does suggest Austin's African-American community may not be gone for good. Many of the people he surveyed miss their community and would return to Austin if only they could afford to live here. He adds, "It tells you how tightly knit this community was at one time and how people really miss the life they had in these historic neighborhoods."

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