Teaching Slavery in Texas: Report from a Syllabus Workshop at Austin College

Map Showing the Distribution of the Population of Enslaved People in Texas, 1860. Source: Lost Texas Roads

Guest contributor: Claire Wolnisty*

This summer, scholars from six Texas institutions of higher education—Austin College, Baylor University, Texas Christian University, Texas A&M at Prairie View, Texas Southern University, and St. Edward’s University—participated in Austin College’s third annual syllabus workshop series devoted to teaching about slavery. The workshops are supported by CIC’s Legacies of American Slavery initiative (Austin College is a Regional Collaboration Partner and the other institutions in bold are all CIC members). An interdisciplinary group of scholars—including political scientists, an archivist, historians, an environmental scientist, core curriculum developers, and English instructors—developed resources and syllabi that highlight the legacies of slavery in our state, through courses such as “Environmental Justice,” “Race, Ethnicity, and Politics,” and “American Literature.” The workshop was created to facilitate graduate and undergraduate course design, rooted in placed-based learning, and to create an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional space for college instructors to establish lasting collaborations.

The workshop included a walking tour of sites in the city of Sherman, Austin College’s home in north Texas, which emphasized the centrality of local histories in teaching the legacies of slavery. Dr. Felix Harcourt’s tour highlighted local historical events, such as the 1930 lynching of a Black farm laborer, George Hughes, and the work of civil rights lawyer, William J. Durham. The tour also acknowledged the ways in which some community stakeholders have consciously obscured these aspects of the town’s history while others have led efforts to commemorate these stories. By engaging with Sherman’s localized histories of racial violence and resistance (Austin College’s thematic focus as part of the CIC Legacies network), the workshop invited participants to consider how local histories, and local treatments of those histories, could inform teaching and student learning in the communities surrounding their home institutions in Texas in places such as Waco and Austin.

Austin College’s summer syllabus workshop was an opportunity for participants to share teaching resources. Through conversations that took place over the two days of the workshop, we shared with each other library guides for slavery in Texas, oral history resources such as the Texas Oral History Association’s annual conference, GIS resources such as ArcGIS StoryMaps, articles, class assignments, primary source collections, recent and forthcoming books, as well as the contact information of scholars working on similar topics.

The syllabus workshop took place against the backdrop of movements to limit what Texas public school students can learn about their state’s history. At Austin College, we hope that the workshop’s collaborative conversations proved especially generative for participants and can serve as a model for ongoing efforts to reckon meaningfully with local histories of racial violence and resistance, here in Texas and beyond.

* Claire Wolnisty is associate professor of history at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. Austin College is a Regional Collaboration Partner in the CIC Legacies of Slavery network. To learn more about the college’s work, read “Resistance is not Futile” in the latest issue of Austin College Magazine. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the college, the Council of Independent Colleges, or the Mellon Foundation. Note: This post was revised on September 1, 2023.