Austin’s black history museum unites East Austin community with Juneteenth celebration

Ruben Paquian

For some, the annual Juneteenth celebration is more than an excuse for a cookout — it’s an important opportunity to learn and gain understanding from one another.

Located in East Austin, the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center has been preserving the history and culture of Austin’s African-American community since the 1940s through seminars, exhibits and the museum’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Welcoming an estimated 800 guests, last Saturday was the most attended Juneteenth celebration in the museum’s history, said Faith Weaver, arts and educational coordinator of the museum. Patrons of all ages came together to enjoy food and games to celebrate the anniversary of the freeing of slaves in the South, something both organizers and celebrationgoers say is more important than ever.

Not many people know about Carver Museum, or that it was the community’s first museum to house a Juneteenth exhibit. That’s something Weaver said its staff has been working to change. 

“When I was a student at UT, I didn’t know that there was black museum in Austin,” Weaver said. “There’s still a lot of people that don’t know about the (Carver Museum), so we are making a concerted effort for people to know that this was the first African-American facility in Austin.”

Through the museum’s increased outreach, the annual celebration has grown. Weaver said the growth in attendance is also a result of the current national and local political climate. With issues such as gentrification and immigration on people’s minds, she said centers focused on the city’s ethnic minorities are more important than ever. 

“Saturday was the biggest (Juneteenth celebration) that we’ve had.” Weaver said. “There are questions and there are concerns that citizens have right now, and it’s important to have spaces where you can talk about those things.

Austin resident Kathy Robinson has been attending Austin’s Juneteenth celebrations for decades. She and her family have deep roots in the East Austin community, and for them, Juneteenth is a way for families to come together and celebrate one another.

“We’re all raised on the east side; we have our family reunion here. We come every year, we never miss it.” Robinson said. “(Juneteenth) makes us feel closer and (gets) everybody to join in.”

Brandon Williams, another lifelong Austinite, said the city’s Juneteenth celebrations have been a part of his life since childhood. He remembers being in the Juneteenth parade riding in his uncle’s race cars.

“I’ve been in Austin all my life — 34 years.” Williams said. “I (was) maybe about four years old when I started coming out here. We couldn’t sleep the night before … because (we were) just excited to be in the Juneteenth parade.”

Celebrating the nineteenth of June doesn’t just provide a day of family fun for the residents of East Austin, it also presents an opportunity for the rest of Austin to learn about African-American history, something Weaver and everyone at the Carver Museum said is a step toward a more cohesive community.

“Anything that we’re able to do that’s going to have us better understand each other is a very positive and good thing, and it kind of grows all of us. Black history is a part of American history,” Weaver said. “It’s important that we learn about each other, so that we have respect for each other.”