Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

West Campus museum memorializes Austin’s only intact slave quarters for Juneteenth celebration

Charles Partheymuller
Christopher D. Spivey & Co. gospel choir perform at the Neill-Cochran House Museum Juneteenth celebration. After tours of the slave quarters and barbeque was served, Spivey led his choir in multiple songs including “Melodies from Heaven,” by Kirk Franklin.

Just a short walk from campus, the Neill-Cochran House Museum stands as a portal to a bygone era. On June 22, the museum shared the newly-restored exhibit in its Juneteenth Celebration, a holiday memorializing the emancipation of the last enslaved people in Texas and the United States, and honoring the contributions of Black people to the city.

“Juneteenth is a holiday that should be celebrated by all Americans because … it is not the ending point of a certain era in history, but the beginning,” said architecture assistant professor Tara A. Dudley, who verified evidence of the building’s history. “People still have hopes, dreams and aspirations from that beginning that have not been met in this country, and our work here is hoping to do all of those things, talk about a specific building and community but even just more contextually, to bring that to a broader understanding.”

The Neill-Cochran House discovered slave quarters underneath the property a few years ago, prompting efforts to preserve the landmark. Today, the building is the only intact and accessible slave dwelling left in Austin. Its restoration commemorates the vitality of Black people in the building and their contributions to the city’s success, Dudley said.

“Of course you have long-time Austinites and long-time Black Austinites who know their history and understand how expansive it is and how it occurred,” Dudley said. “But … so many people who are not from Austin are moving into the city, (and) they don’t know that history and it’s absolutely imperative for them to understand it so that they can understand the city that they live in today.”

The community celebration looked to bridge this gap, offering guided tours of both the house and slave quarters. Ashli Park, who’s lived in Austin for two years, said the event deepened her knowledge of Austin’s Black history. 

“It makes you wonder … what history could we potentially still preserve and also dig up and … bring back to life,” Park said. 

Rowena Dasch, executive director of the Neill-Cochran Museum, emphasized the importance of preserving historical structures as a means of connecting with the past.

“There’s something about walking into a space … whether it’s Constitution Hall in Philadelphia or the slave quarters here at the Neill-Cochran House Museum,” Dasch said. “It bridges time, and once those structures are gone, you don’t have the capacity to do that anymore. Historic places matter.”

Dasch said the preserved slave quarters are particularly historically significant to Austin considering that slave labor played an important role in the city’s economy, especially domestic and trade labor. 

The event also marked the opening of “A Juneteenth Rodeo,” an exhibit featuring photos of Black cowboys and cowgirls from the 1970s by novelist Sarah Bird. Bird faced rejection of her work at the time due to the perceived lack of interest. Almost 50 years later, she said the shifting perspectives in Austin led to the exhibit opening.

The exhibit will be housed in the museum, located in West Campus, until September, and, like the rest of the museum, intends to educate the community about Austin’s unspoken history. 

“I hope that the impact is … to bring people to the Neill-Cochran House Museum so that they understand a more expansive and inclusive history of Austin, especially as far as the Black history of the city is concerned,” Dudley said. 

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