When the Civil War ended in 1865, approximately 250,000 formerly enslaved people in the state of Texas faced an uncertain future. Although freed from slavery, challenges and difficulties remained as families searched for places to live, jobs, and community. Self-sufficient, all-Black communities were formed across the state and have been called freedmen’s settlements or freedom colonies. Usually unmapped and unrecorded in public records, these communities had an important part of post-Civil War history.
Andrea Roberts at Texas A&M is leading the effort Texas Freedom Colonies Project to identify and document the locations and history of these settlements which have been nearly lost or forgotten until the last few years. Joined by faculty and graduate students, Roberts has been traveling through the state, interviewing the settlement’s residents and descendants to preserve and better understand the history of these unique locations. When settlement locations are identified and accounts found or recorded, more tangible preservation processes can be pursued.
Over the past four years, Roberts has discovered 357 of 557 freedom colonies across Texas and has crowdsourced an additional 55 previously-undocumented locations through her research. Through the project’s website, documentation is available to community preservationists and cultural resource managers to help protect and preserve the remaining sites and evidence in the land and buildings. National funding for research and historic preservation is supporting the project and new resources are being developed to help land owners of these old “lost” communities learn how to preserve and document the locations.