27th Heman Sweatt Symposium to Focus on Future of Black Life in Austin

AUSTIN, Texas The University of Texas at Austin 27th Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights begins April 24 with the theme "Future of Black Life in Austin" and will include a film screening, a talkback and a panel discussion. The symposium culminates with the "Evening of Honors" presentation of the Heman Sweatt Legacy Award to the Rev. Joseph C. Parker Jr., senior pastor at David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Austin.

This year's symposium, organized by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE), will provide a forum to discuss how the future of life in Austin for African Americans will affect the broader Central Texas and University of Texas communities.

Local and national publications have noted myriad changes in African American life in Austin during recent years. The number of African Americans in Central Texas has increased since 1980, but their share of the region's population has fallen from 9.2 percent in 1980 to 7 percent in the 2010 census, according to an Austin American-Statesman story in 2012. The slow emigration of African American professionals from Austin to other parts of Texas and the nation requires examination to determine what will become of black life for those who remain.

As part of the panel discussion, Eric Tang, assistant professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, will discuss his ethnographic research with longstanding members of Austin's African American community, taking into consideration the fact that blacks are the only ethnic group in Austin losing representation and what that means in light of Austin's reputation as a progressive city. Tang said, "We'll ask
whether there's anything to suggest that these statistics can be turned around. We would frame it as a call to action."

Gregory J. Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement, said, "At a time when the racial and ethnic makeup of Austin continues to change rapidly, it's important for us to commemorate the legacy of trailblazers like Heman Sweatt. Understanding the history of integration in Austin and at The University of Texas provides us with tools and inspiration to remain committed to diversity and retention of people of color."

The symposium is sponsored by the DDCE, with support from colleges and departments across campus.

Schedule of Events:

Wednesday, April 24, 6-9 p.m. Film Screening: "The Powerbroker: Whitney Young's Fight for Civil Rights"

(Presented in partnership with the Austin Area Urban League)

LBJ Library and Museum, Frank Erwin Atrium, 2313 Red River St.

Synopsis: "The Powerbroker: Whitney Young's Fight for Civil Rights" tells the story of Whitney Young, whom biographer Nancy Weiss Malkiel called "the inside man of the black revolution." By challenging America's business and political communities directly, Young was able to make inroads where other civil rights leaders could not. His efforts to open the doors of equal opportunity were often attacked by the people he was trying to help. The film chronicles the public and private trials of a man navigating a divided society in an explosive time.

Wednesday, May 1, 6-8:30 p.m. Panel: "Future of Black Life in Austin"

Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, Legends Room, 2110 San Jacinto Blvd.

Join community leaders and City of Austin officials in a discussion about the "Future of Black Life in Austin" and issues faced by the African American community. African Americans are the only major racial group in Austin experiencing a decline in population, as families are being displaced from their historical neighborhoods and options for healthy and sustainable living for people of color are becoming increasingly scarce.


  • King Davis (moderator), director, Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Shannon Jones III, deputy director, Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department
  • Margo Frasier, police monitor, City of Austin
  • Eric Tang, assistant professor, African and African Diaspora Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
  • Damaris Nicholson, staff member, Center for Disproportionality and Disparities, Texas Health and Human Services Commission

Friday, May 3, 7-10 p.m.  Special Event: "Heman Marion Sweatt Evening of Honors"

Etter-Harbin Alumni Center, 2110 San Jacinto Blvd.

Black-tie attire.

In honor of the 27th anniversary of the Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights, the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement will present senior pastor Joseph C. Parker Jr. with the Heman Marion Sweatt Legacy Award. This award honors a University of Texas at Austin alumnus, faculty member, staffer, student or friend who embodies the life and legacy of Heman Marion Sweatt by breaking down barriers and challenging the status quo.

Pastor Parker is available for interviews in advance of the "Evening of Honors."

For more information, please visit the Sweatt Symposium website.