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Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Texas Juneteenth celebrations at risk as Black people leave Austin

By meerna Jun12,2024

For years, the East Austin community has strolled to Rosewood Park, an urban public space in the area, and celebrated Juneteenth. But recently, as housing costs in the area have skyrocketed, some of them have been forced to move, adding an additional challenge to how they can mark the day.

This year’s Juneteenth event – commemorating the news of the abolition of slavery – will take place on June 15. The community celebrates with a parade and gathering at Rosewood Park.

“With gentrification, all the people who lived in the area where we’re organizing were able to walk to the event,” Lee Dawson Jr., vice president of the Greater East Austin Youth Association, the organizer, said about the event. Newsweek. “Now that gentrification has happened, they’ve moved into the outlying areas, so now they have to drive into that area and find places to park and that’s it.”

The Youth Association has been helping to organize the event for two decades. Dawson said expensive housing is driving people away from the area.

“What’s driving them further apart is the price of housing,” he said Newsweek in a telephone conversation. “For some single-person households, it is becoming too expensive to live in East Austin.”

This includes rental costs and whether people can afford to buy a home, he added.

Dawson said that in 1995, people could buy homes in the area for less than $50,000.

“Now you can’t find a house under $300,000,” he said.

Austin
A colorful music-themed wall mural is viewed along East 7th Street on January 17, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Apartment prices in the city have increased, which forced some residents to move.

George Rose/Getty Images

The effect of these high housing costs is to change the composition of the community in East Austin.

“When it comes to the African-American and Latino community, a lot of them are moving outside of the Austin area,” Dawson said. “And not just in East Austin, but throughout Austin, we have a decline in the African-American community,” Dawson said.

Austin has seen rising housing prices, which have intensified during the pandemic as an influx of immigrants from other parts of the country has created competition for homes, which in turn has helped drive up prices for rental homes and homes available for sale.

Dawson said inflation also affected the cost of hosting the June event following the Covid pandemic.

“The prices for everything we have to do there, entertainment and so on, are going up, it’s getting harder and harder to get sponsors for this event,” Dawson said. “You know, since the pandemic, the price of our entertainment has gone up over 100 percent from what we were paying… Everything is going up.”

Dawson said it’s important to hold this event to maintain the bonds the community has developed over the years.

“We’re still here. “We are still trying to do everything we can to be able to put it on so families can come and celebrate,” he said Newsweek. “You might find friends you haven’t seen in a few years because everyone has moved and now is the time to come and celebrate and just talk (and) hang out.”

The meeting also became a place where young people in the community could be inspired and learn from elders who grew up in the area, Dawson said.

“This is important because a lot of information for our young people coming up is lost. You know, these are my children, my grandchildren. “This is a time for them to get together, see other people in the community,” Dawson said. “This also applies to the city manager and everyone else. This is a time for them to meet some of these people and talk to them and see what it takes to get to that level.”

He added that these connections can be inspiring.

“This is our young people’s way of knowing they have a chance to be a city manager, mayor of Austin or anywhere else,” Dawson said. “You know, we have a lot of people they can look up to.”