SUPPORT THE ALEXANDER FAMILY
The Alexander family farm has been passed down by six generations of farmers, with the seventh generation being trained to take over the farm and property. Despite the site's historical and cultural significance to the African American community and Austin, TX, the family's property has and continues to be threatened by eminent domain takings and gentrification.
FIGHT AGAINST EMINENT DOMAIN AND GENTRIFICATION
The Alexander family has been in a persistent battle with TxDOT to retain the land that has been in the family for generations. Despite their efforts to share the historical, cultural, agricultural, and sentimental value of the land and its importance to the African American narrative and history in Austin (and Texas at large), developers, corporations, and governmental agencies continue to contribute to the erasure of this legacy by taking this land via eminent domain, a tactic used to expropriate private property based on the claims that it will be for public use. Through this tactic, in 1968, the Alexander family lost approximately five acres from their initial 78 acres for the construction rerouting US Highway 183 over Route 2, which was constructed parallel to the front of the farm, houses, and cemetery on the site. This development was a direct result of ‘urban renewal,’ also referred to as urban removal, which focused on creating opportunities for redevelopment by clearing areas that had fallen into disrepair due to the disinvestment caused by race-biased redlining maps. These practices directly impacted communities of color, especially African Americans, and caused the displacement of thousands of already established thriving communities in Austin and around the United States. Although not causing the family’s displacement during the 1960s, today, the family is in danger once again of losing more of their land, given TxDOT’s proposed plan to expand US Highway 183 up to 400 feet. This time the expansion threatens to cut into most of the homes on the property in addition to the cemetery where Daniel Alexander’s remains lay.
The family has expressed their concern that such a development would disrupt their homes, including the one currently being renovated, which is especially historic as it was once a Pony Express stop. In addition to the demolition of homes and property, the highway expansion would also disturb the remains of Alexander ancestors and family buried in the family cemetery. Given the length of time that the site has been under the ownership of the Alexanders, it is possible that this cemetery contains even more remains than the 60 that have been identified by the family, adding to its historical and cultural significance. The family is unaware of any remains that might have been found during the 1960s excavation to construct the initial highway. However, as has been experienced in other sites around the country, such as the African American Burial Ground in New York and the Sugar Land 95 in Texas, there likely were remains discovered during the initial expansion. Whether this did happen remains unknown, but the family is certain that if TxDOT pursues its plan to build in front of the cemetery, they would undoubtedly disrupt unmarked graves. To prevent such an incident, TxDOT usually does a ‘Cultural Remains Survey,’ where they send archeologists to survey the site before they start planning out a highway, but the family is unaware of any attempts on the part of TxDOT to do this now, nor was it done in the past.
Unfortunately, the encroachment of the highway is not the only development threatening the Alexander family’s property. The family had not been informed of a drainage rerouting until 2015, when, after a heavy storm, the cemetery flooded for the first time in historical memory. The flood, which covered the cemetery under almost four feet of water, caused extensive damage, including the dislodgement of the gate and the toppling of tombstones. This sudden change in water drainage patterns was almost certainly due to the neighboring housing developments that have sprung up in recent years. Despite the family’s inquiries about drainage information, no one was held accountable since the area had been labeled as being within the floodplains without their awareness, so the family had to respond financially to all needed repairs following the flood. In addition to the drainage issues caused by the development of housing complexes on the property’s perimeter, one of these developments has encroached upon, platted over and squatted upon Alexander heir's property. The housing developments have not obeyed city setback requirements, and, based on squatter’s rights, if they are left as is for long enough, the disputed land will become part of the developers’ property by default. In order to prove their rights to this land, the Alexander family has been forced to hire engineers and surveyors to compare different surveys, all of whom have agreed this land is Alexander heir's property. It is now up to the Alexander family to hold the developers accountable as lawyers warn them of the exorbitant costs associated. As with so many other African American agrarian families, the Alexanders' right to prevent their land from being taken by real estate developers is being usurped by the very entities bound to protect land ownership.