Education | February 14, 2023

Institute of Texan Cultures updates African American Texans exhibit with oral history project

Institute of Texan Cultures updates African American Texans exhibit with oral history project

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC) added a new component to its African American Texans gallery. “You Take It From Here,” an oral history project, spotlights local high school students as they document their conversations with their parents about their parents’ experiences growing up Black on the east side of San Antonio. The exhibit opened this month as part of the institute’s Black History Month observances and will be available for viewing through Fall 2024.

The ITC is a place of dialogue and discovery that contributes to essential local, statewide and national conversations. ITC staff learned of the Advanced Learning Academy’s (ALA) Black American studies class project, led by teacher Zack Wilson. The institute offered to team up on the project and include it in the gallery. A part of the San Antonio Independent School district and the CAST network of schools, the ALA relies heavily on project-based learning, an approach to education that emphasizes learning through creating.

You Take It From Here wall in the African American Texans exhibit area

You Take It From Here is presented on this wall in the African American Texans Area. It includes three monitors showing interviews with Advanced Learning Academy students and their parents discussing civil rights, race, identity, and the changing faces of their neighborhoods.

The questions challenged family members to discuss how their community evolved and how their Black and multicultural heritage has shaped social experiences, including school and college life. Wilson worked with three of his students to craft the questions, resulting in honest and intriguing discussions on topics ranging from civil rights to gentrification to being biracial in San Antonio. The students were in their senior and junior years in school.

“The students were initially surprised that what was once a simple class project could be of interest to San Antonio’s wider community,” said Wilson, after telling them that the ITC was interested in adding the project to its African American Texans gallery. “There’s something powerful about such a prominent museum acknowledging that your family’s story is part of a greater narrative about civil rights. We’re so grateful that Veronica Rodriguez and the ITC have helped us recognize that our stories matter, not just to us, but that we’re valued by our community and that we matter to our city.”

The conversations in the project illustrate key points and concepts such as redlining of specific neighborhoods—when banks refused to lend or set unfair lending practices for those seeking to purchase homes in those areas—and move into more complex issues as the families discuss multicultural heritage, including Black-Mexican and Black-Asian and the challenges of navigating one’s family or individual identity.

Student and parent participants included father and son, Barry (UTSA ’04) and Timothy Huff, father and daughter, Clifton and Diamond Hodge, and mother and daughter, Fabiana and Ghaliyah Ali.

“This is the kind of engagement and collaboration the institute treasures,” said Rodriguez, ITC interim head curator and UTSA Libraries head of digital humanities and user engagement. “We’re getting a perspective from people who’ve experienced these things personally. We’ve engaged students to dig deeper, which helps them realize how important they are in telling the stories happening around them.”

The institute has installed three new screens and directional speakers in the African American Texans area to show clips of students’ conversations with their parents. “You Take It From Here” is available for viewing during the ITC’s regular business hours, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Admission is by donation via donation stations on the exhibit floor or online.


Learn more about the Advanced Learning Academy.

Find out about the CAST network of schools.


By James Benavides