Institute for Advanced Study and Heritage Studies & Public History Presents

Reconstructing Black Worlds

Past event
Mar 17, 2022
Loli Ellison and wife, 1930s San Antonio. Institute of Texan Cultures

Loli Ellison and wife, 1930s San Antonio. Institute of Texan Cultures

Dr. Andrea Roberts
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning, Texas A&M University

From 1865-1930, formerly enslaved Texans founded 557+ freedom colonies, which are now absent from official maps, have lost population, and their building conditions have declined since the Great Migration. Dr. Andrea Roberts will discuss the contemporary status of these Black communities, diasporic identity, co-curation activities, and research findings associated with The Texas Freedom Colonies Atlas. The Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas is a statewide crowdsourcing project which collects stories and memories of disappearing historic Black spaces whose populations have been displaced over time through cultural erasure, resource extraction, and natural disasters. The digital humanities platform has become a medium through which users can resist the deliberate forgetting of black places by documenting intangible dimensions of Black places or worlds. The platform safeguards users’ multilayered recollections allowing them agency over the reconstruction of black spaces. Selected entries in the Atlas include origins stories, church foundings, Rosenwald School locations, local family names, and manifestations of the affective, embodied persistence of place. She begins with a historical overview of freedom colonies followed by a demonstration of the Texas Freedom Colonies Atlas. During her presentation, particular emphasis is placed on the ways African diaspora theory and Black women’s counternarratives in Atlas entries make visible the complex, emotional and cultural geographies and their worldbuilding in communities presumed placeless or deliberately disappeared.


Presented in partnership by the Institute for Advanced Study and Heritage Studies & Public History.

This event is free, open to all, and will be held via Zoom webinar. You will receive an automatic email reminder one day and one hour prior to the event including your registration link.

ANDREA ROBERTS is an Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Texas A&M University. She is a fellow with the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, Center for Heritage Conservation, and the Africana Studies Program. Dr. Roberts holds a Ph.D. in planning from The University of Texas at Austin (2016), an M.A. in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania (2006), and a B.A. in political science from Vassar College (1996). Her 12 years of nonprofit and government administration, political campaign, and community development experience inform her efforts to move disappearing Black communities—facing sprawl, displacement, and resource extraction—from the margin to the center of public discourse and research. 

As Director of The Texas Freedom Colonies Project™, she trains student researchers, volunteers, and the freedom colony diaspora to contribute place histories and memories to the TXFCP Study and Atlas, a publicly accessible map and settlement database. The Texas Department of Transportation and the Council of Texas Archeologists use the platform to identify Black historic resources at risk. The Journal of Planning History, Buildings and Landscapes, the Journal of the American Planning Association, the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage, Planning Theory & Practice, and Environmental Justice have published her peer-reviewed scholarship. She’s written commentaries for Newsweek and The Conversation.

Dr. Roberts is also the Consultant/Owner of Freedom Colonies Project, LLC, which provides research and DEIA workshops for preservation organizations. She is a Texas State Board of Review member and a National Monument Audit Advisory Board member. She has received awards for her engaged scholarship from The Vernacular Architecture Forum and the Urban Affairs Association. Dr. Roberts is a 2020-21 Whiting Public Engagement Fellow and was a 2020 Visiting Scholar at Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, Abolition. Currently, she’s writing a book about Black historic preservation practice for The University of Texas Press.


Part of IAS Thursdays

IAS Thursdays at the Institute for Advanced Study brings ideas, conversations, and viewpoints to the heart of the University of Minnesota. Our events are free and open to the public; IAS Thursdays are designed for scholars from all walks of life.