PVAMU’s School of Architecture Celebrates Juneteenth By Hosting AYA Symposium

Juneteenth is a time to celebrate freedom while honoring the past, and Prairie View A&M University’s School of Architecture has exciting plans that do both.

In collaboration with the Texas Institute for the Preservation of History and Culture (TIPHC), PVAMU will be hosting the AYA Symposium, formerly known as the Texas Purple Hull Pea Festival Symposium on June 19th, “Juneteenth.”

For this year’s theme, “Education: THE Foundation for Civil Rights in Texas Freedom Colonies,” the one-day symposium will feature workshops and guest speakers exploring the history of educational systems and structures in these unique communities.

Keynote speaker for the event will be Dr. Peniel E. Joseph, Founding Director, Center for Race & Democracy, University of Texas at Austin.


A Storied Past

Juneteenth commemorates the day that African Americans were informed of their freedom, a full two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Freedom Colonies, or “freedmen’s towns” were established by former slaves in order to create communities that would protect and honor this newfound freedom.

One such community is Shankleville, a small town near the Texas-Louisiana border. Founded by Jim and Winnie Shankle in 1867, this particular Freedom Colony has hosted the Texas Purple Hull Pea Festival to showcase the town’s unique history, while also raising awareness about similar communities throughout Texas.

When asked why awareness was important, TIPHC Director Michael Hurd said, “The biggest challenges [in preserving this history] have been the lack of documentation of these communities – where they were, their founders, their years of their existence, and so forth.”

“But also the careless preservation efforts of surviving structures that in many cases withered away,” Hurd continued, “So many of those areas quietly disappeared over the years as community members moved away and the settlements’ populations waned. What was left was neglected with no record of what those spaces had been and who had been there.”

Despite the challenges, Hurd stresses there’s still hope, “One of our featured speakers, Dr. Andrea Roberts, has initiated the Texas Freedom Colony Project, which is preserving the legacy of those settlements through mapping where those towns were and we’re delighted to have her present her work at the symposium.”

Moving the symposium to Prairie View this year was a collaborative effort between Mr. Hurd and Lareatha Clay, the president of Clay History and Education Services, Inc. and a great-great-great granddaughter to the Shankles.

“I’m excited to be a part of a forum that’s all about shining a light on the role that

Texas’ 500-plus Freedom Colonies played – and continues to play – in making our state

what it is in the 21st century,” said Clay, “The involvement of educators is just icing on the cake – in that it helps ensure that knowledge gleaned from the presenters will be passed onto the next generation of Texans.”


A Strong Foundation

The influence of these communities extends far beyond the physical limits of each town. The systems created in Freedom Colonies helped form a strong foundation for independence.

Hurd touches specifically on the innovative education systems that developed, saying “When enslaved Texans learned of their freedom, one of their first priorities was education – learning to read and write – skills they had been denied while in bondage. It was as though an entire race was going to school.”

Dr. Melanye Price, head of PVAMU’s new African American Studies program, will be speaking at the Aya Symposium on how essential it is for education systems to be designed for the people they serve, with a focus on infusing African American Studies in every curriculum.


A Blueprint for a Better Future

The symposium’s new name, “Aya” was inspired by the African Adinkra “fern” symbol, which represents endurance and resourcefulness – two traits essential to the creation of Texas Freedom Colonies in the past, and their preservation in the future.

“We’re proud to host this insightful event under its new banner,” said Hurd, “We hope that symposium attendees will leave with an appreciation of how black freedmen in Texas were able to make the first steps out of enslavement and into independence, how they thrived in self-sufficient communities that featured a strong emphasis on education and a determined sense of pursuing their civil rights in an era when they were denied so much. Their perseverance and industriousness set the table for generations of black activists and educators in Texas.”

K-12 Texas Educators who attend the symposium will receive seven CPE credits. Event registration and additional is available at www.ayasymposium.org.


Be sure to follow along @pvamu for updates on the Aya Symposium and other events at Prairie View A&M University.