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New exhibit explores history of Bastrop County's freedom colonies

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    Many of the descendants who were involved with the new exhibit are present at its opening. Photos by Dock Jackson
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    Doris Williams (left) and Carol Kysar (right) introduce the new Bastrop County Historical Museum exhibit, “Freedom Colonies of Bastrop County,” at the opening earlier this month.
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    A photo of Professor T. C. Franklin, an early African American historian and educator, was loaned to the museum. Franklin’s meticulous notes provided the framework for the exhibit.
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    First lieutenant Doris J. Parr Williams, here in uniform, led the research that helped develop the Freedom Colonies of Bastrop County exhibit.
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    The exhibit included a number of artifacts and photographs showing the history of freedom colonies in Bastrop County.
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    This map shows the known freedom colonies in Bastrop County, some of which were discovered by the research for the new exhibit.

Bastrop County recently observed Juneteenth, which commemorates the freeing of slaves by President Abraham Lincoln with the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The news did not arrive in Texas until June 19, 1865.

The new exhibit, “Freedom Colonies of Bastrop County,” which recently opened at the Bastrop County Historical Museum & Visitors Center, explores what happened to the hundreds of slaves freed in Bastrop County on June 19, 1865.

The project had been considered by museum archivist Carol Kysar, but things took another direction when Doris Williams and her cousin visited the museum and were researching some information on their descendants. They met Kysar, and a series of meetings with research partners—some of who were descendants and others who were interested in the project—fostered the exhibit. Over 41 committee members eventually became involved in the project which, although a special exhibit, has the potential to become part of a permanent exhibit at the museum. These committee members brought together the greater Bastrop County community in discovering artifacts, photographs and oral histories that have been chronicled at the museum.

The state of Texas had documented 13 freedom colonies in Bastrop County, but this group has almost doubled that number with the information they uncovered from family, church and school records shared with the committee. An integral part of the discovery was made possible by the writings of Professor T. C. Franklin.

Franklin was a local African American historian who kept meticulous records during his tenure as Bastrop County Superintendent of Colored Schools.

His many notes, photographs and insight in the community serve as a footprint that developed the new colony discoveries. His granddaughter, Diane Mills, inherited the vast amount of history and has loaned much of it to the museum for study. The documents were all handwritten and are being transcribed by the museum.

Michal Hubbard, a museum volunteer who was in charge of putting the exhibit together, has done a magnificent job of chronicling the activities and development of these colonies with the archivist, the committee and the many other volunteers that worked to make the exhibit possible. Many of these communities are gone today due to the fact that many of their inhabitants moved away, but thanks to the descendants that remain in Bastrop County and the many memories that their ancestors shared, there is now an exhibit worth exploring and sharing.

It’s still a work in progress, according to Kysar and Williams, because each day a new visitor comes in and passes the word to someone they know who is a descendant.

The Freedom Colonies of Bastrop County exhibit continues through September. For more information about donating or placing items on loan to contribute to the exhibit, email Kysar at archivist@bchs1832.org. The museum is located at 904 Main Street in Bastrop.