Holy cross

Rogers Washington Holy Cross Historic Black Quarter Home Tour

Norman Scales Jr. says he doesn’t care if you are “black, white, blue, brown or gray” he wants to get to know you if you live in Rogers Washington Holy Cross Heights, the East neighborhood Austin in which he lives. , went to school, started playing jazz and learned the meaning of the word “segregation”.


You can often spot Scales, a 75-year-old second-generation resident of the neighborhood, sitting on his porch. By the way, he might let you in for a glass of water while you “sit a spell” and have a conversation.

“Some people laugh at it, but we try to keep this neighborhood. Rogers Washington Holy Cross Heights was a struggle to get here,” Scales said. “We took care of our own and the houses, our parents built what they could with the money they had.”

Norman Scales Sr. was Austin’s first black fighter pilot. (Austin Parks and Recreation)

Scales followed in his father’s footsteps and became a pilot. Norman Scales Sr., was a Tuskegee aviator and Austin’s first black fighter pilot. History is important to Scales, which is precisely why he wants to preserve the neighborhood.

Historical designation


Norman Scales’ house was built in 1958 and he plans to pass it on to his daughter. (Austin Conservation.)

The neighborhood, which is located off Manor Road between Chestnut and Walnut Ave., was designated historic district in September 2020, the first in Austin to commemorate the history of a predominantly black neighborhood. Homes in the Historic District were first featured as part of this year’s annual Home Tour, hosted by Preservation Austin.

Usually in person but held virtually this year due to the pandemic, the Homes Tour has been an annual event that showcases “the diverse heritage and amazing neighborhoods of our community every spring” for 40 years. Proceeds from the tour benefit Preservation Austin’s advocacy efforts.

“East Austin is undergoing, I think, the fastest redevelopment in the city in quite some time now, and this is where our African-American, Mexican and Mexican communities have historically been separated,” said Lindsey Derrington, Executive Director of Preservation Austin. “New developments are quickly taking over neighborhoods, increasing property values. We have these giant houses rising up next to post-war houses, increasing property values ​​and it’s really problematic and it’s pushing a lot of people leaving East Austin. “

Homes in the historic Rogers Washington Holy Cross were built here by black residents of Austin during the Jim Crow era, primarily in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Most of the locals have been there ever since. decades and almost all of them know each other.

Integrate into a segregated world

Lavon Marshall grew up in East Austin on Washington Avenue. As an adult, Marshall, her husband, and children moved to Georgia at the onset of racial integration in 1957, and her children attended an integrated school in grades one and two. Marshall was “promised we would have no problem” by the school principal, and apart from a small incident resolved, his children have fitted in fairly seamlessly.


Lavon Marshall moved his family to a new home his parents built in Rogers Washington Holy Cross. It only cost $ 15,000 to build in 1959. (Preservation Austin)

It was a different story when Marshall’s family moved back to Austin to live in his parents’ newly constructed house in 1966. Austin’s schools were not fully integrated until 1971 – 17 years after the Brown decision. v. Board of Education.

“When they started going to Blackshear Elementary it was always separate. They didn’t fit in until after they closed Kealing (middle school) and Anderson (high school),” Marshall said. “(After the integration) there were bomb threats for the buses. There were fights. My husband and I spent, I’m sure, a third of our time going in the either school to quell threats. “


Lavon Marshall was born and raised in East Austin. (Courtesy of Lavon Marshall)

It was the first black principal of Anderson Hill School and the Marshall family’s neighbor, Dr Charles Akins, who led their children from school to their extracurricular activities and inspired black children to succeed in an integrated school.

After a hard day at school, the children returned home surrounded by friends. “Being at Rogers Washington Holy Cross, you knew you had friends. Everyone knew everyone in the neighborhood,” Marshall said.

Preserving the Heights of Rogers Washington Holy Cross

After growing up and seeing the neighborhood change, Scales and Marshall said they found it painful to see “McMansions” appear and people move to an area where just 20 years ago, “the whites have learned that everything that was wrong happened “.

With the new historic designation, developers will have a harder time building in the neighborhood and asking homeowners to sell their homes, due to the “exceptional value” of an area in history. This is good news for the neighborhood, which does not want to see any neighbors evicted.

“I listen to the people who come here who are richer, or who earn more money than most of us, and the first thing they want to do is change it, but they don’t know the story and what these people went through, “Scales said.” This represents something that cannot be duplicated. “


One of the homes featured in the Preservation Austin Homes Tour. (Austin Conservation)

There is still time to see all of the homes featured in Preservation Austin Home Tour. Ticket sales will reopen for two weeks from this Thursday until July 8.

“They won’t see anything too architectural here, but you’ll find it was the home of a person who served your country, whatever the color of your skin, and it’s a place that says,” look at this house, it is a house where people are welcome, regardless of their ethnicity, ”said Scales.

Learn more about Austin’s neighborhoods: