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Ashanti Martin
ashanti@whereismyland.org

 

Tuesday, February 1—Where Is My Land, whose mission is to help Black families reclaim land taken by eminent domain and other systemic means of property taking, is launching a new and urgent campaign to save a Black family farm from encroachment by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The Alexander Farm is a historic Black-owned farm in operation since 1847 that has already been shrunk once by highway expansion.

TxDOT has plans in the works to expand U.S. Highway 183 South in Travis County, which would destroy a portion of The Alexander Farm, already diminished in size by an eminent domain taking in 1968. Despite protests from the Alexander family—including petitions, public hearings, and written requests—TxDOT hasn’t yet abandoned its plans to expand the highway over The Alexander Farm and its cemetery.

“This case is exactly why Where Is My Land exists: to fight for the Black families who have been ignored for so long,” said Where Is My Land Co-Founder Kavon Ward. “The Alexanders are a prominent family in Travis County whose economic impact has been felt throughout the region. Yet, their informed pleas and alternative suggestions have fallen on indifferent ears.”
The Alexander Family Farm is known through the legacy of Daniel Alexander, who first came to Travis County in 1839 with his enslaver and Texas “founding father” Thomas Freeman McKinney. Daniel Alexander was a celebrated horse breeder. In exchange for his horse racing acumen, Alexander homesteaded 73 acres of land.

He raised his family on the homestead for decades, and his remains are interred in the gated Alexander Cemetery, along with approximately 60 marked and unmarked graves of his descendants. The Alexander family is considered to be a Texas Founding Family and is referenced in Texas state publications and in the Library of Congress. Their farm sustained their extended family and supplied dairies throughout Travis County.

“This land is our home. Imagine what it feels like to know exactly who your enslaved ancestors were, where they lived, and how they worked the ground you are standing on,” said Rosalind Alexander-Kasparik, a sixth-generation descendant of Daniel Alexander. “Now imagine how it feels to have someone threaten to bulldoze your place, or take even an inch of your land. Surely, you’d be compelled to fight the taking, to stop the state.”

The Alexander family’s protestations were in vain in 1968, when TxDOT took part of The Alexander Farm and cemetery to expand Rural Route 2 with the four-lane, boulevard-centered US-183. Part of the land that was taken remained unused for the highway, but was never returned. When the Alexander family’s land was taken, the National Historic Preservation Act prohibiting the taking of historic sites had been law for two years. At that time, the Alexanders had been farming their historic land for 120 years.

Subsequent years visited racist acts on the Alexander family and farm. In the early 1970s, Alexander-Kasparik said that a barn was set ablaze and burned for three days, destroying the winter supplies for livestock and dozens of pieces of family heirloom furniture. While the fire was never investigated, members of the family believe the Ku Klux Klan was responsible.

The highway also brought air pollution that settles as soot on the houses and farm buildings. As the traffic density grew, so did noise pollution on the farm. The Alexander cattle and other livestock that sequester carbon in the soil by grazing and thus help mitigate climate change, are hard-pressed to keep up. Due to the inevitable increase in cars and traffic, the expanded highway will likely produce even more dirty air and noise pollution.

“Like many of the nearly 200 cases of land theft that have been reported to Where Is My Land, the Alexander family’s loss is a perfect example of the threat that eminent domain poses to Black land—disproportionately—across the United States,” said Where Is My Land Co-Founder Ashanti Martin. “The history of the questionable use of eminent domain against Black communities has been well documented.”
In March 2021, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg paused the Texas highway I-45 expansion in Houston to evaluate the project on civil rights grounds. On December 1, the Texas Transportation Commission announced that it had reached an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration allowing it to resume design work on certain parts of the disputed project, though the project as a whole remains mostly on pause.

Yet the fate of The Alexander Farm is still up in the air as the family has not received any word from TxDOT since the agency promised to review alternative routes for expansion before March 2021.

“The heartbreak of TxDOT preparing to take our historic family land once again cannot adequately be put into words,” said Alexander-Kasparik. “Ours is a rich, earthen, familial love for this place of which we as a family are fiercely proud. We have persistently protected our land legacy for 175 years and counting. How can we help others to understand and respect Black descendants’ connection to our historic land? Most importantly, how can we prevent the state from encroaching upon and taking it—despite protecting laws? How long will they be allowed to ignore those laws and continue to threaten and harm our family land legacy?”

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