Heritage, Volume 5, Number 3, Autumn 1987 Page: 26
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Texas has one of
the more unique
historical strata to
be found anywhere.
This should not be overlooked when
examining the various forms of land
records. And undoubtedly, the evidence
and artifacts to be found beneath the
ground surface contribute to the identify
and meaning of the historical
Whether urban or rural, churches
dominate the current architectural inventory
of individual Black resources. The
simple wood frame Black Church
(A.M.E., African Methodist Episcopal;
C.M.E., Colored Methodist Episcopal;
Baptists; and others) isolated on an
urban block or county road is usually a
telling reminder of a once vital Black
community or settlement. The same clue
is transmitted from the cemetery containing
extended Black pioneer families.
Since a great many of the churches
and cemeteries are still active, oral
interviews with descendents will usually
reveal accounts and sources beyond
It is always a good policy to engage
preliminary research before launching
a full scale documentation effort. In
other words, educate yourself about the
people, places and culture beforehand.
This sharpens sensitivity and allows for
more informed inquiries. The initial
investigation should be divided be26
An unoccupied lodge hall which once housed a
Black fraternal organization near Pflugerville,
Travis County, Texas.
tween archival and field sources, if
possible, in order to capture the
broadest base information.
Obtaining and reviewing specific
written accounts about the resources
focuses the initial field investigation.
These accounts can be cross referenced
and specific field operations targeted
for verification. Compiling a "land genealogy"
(an ownership and/or functional
evolution of every tract) from public
records provides a land-related history.
This is not usually documented, but it is
one of the most basic aspects of historic
ethnic settlement. It invariably yields
exciting revelations fundamental to vernacular
and rural resources. With this
data and knowledgable residents, preliminary
field searches are more productive.
This preparation also allows
for more appropriate dialog when
conducting oral (taped) interviews.
Residents appreciate the information,
and are more willing to share.
Oral history is often the only history
when documenting the Black presence
in Texas. In fact, it is generally so important
that a skilled oral historian
should be retained if the principal
researcher does not have substantial
experience in this area. As noted earlier,
the interviewer must be educated
about the subject. In addition, the interview
questions must be well thought out
(clear) and sequenced to draw out as
much information as possible on each
topic. A set of alternate questions
should be prepared in case some unexpected
recollections and information
surface. All interviews may not be
taped. This decision can be made by
analyzing the content of the preliminary
interviews. All interviews should be
verified with other sources, including
archival records and specific field
research. Of course, all interview
accounts should be compared.
Interpretation is the most subjective
part of historic research and anaylsis,
and one of the most critical factors
influencing public and private recognition.
It is absolutely essential to avoid
cliches and stereotypes in this phase of
the investigation. The most typical error
is to evaluate a resource using inappropriate
criteria. For example, Anglo European
concepts of architectural form and
order should not be used to interpret
Black architecture in Sabine County. A
formal Mexican catherdral should not
be used as a measuring stick for a vernacular
Black church in Guadalupe
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Reference the current page of this Periodical.
Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 5, Number 3, Autumn 1987, periodical, Autumn 1987; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45439/m1/26/: accessed May 23, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.