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Undated, hand-drawn "Map ofFreedman Town" by Brazos County SurveyorJeffP. (Jefferson Paley) Mitchell showing lot numbers and die Freedmen's Bureau school. North Bryan's Freedman Town wa was home to many of Brazos County's ex-slaves following the Civil War. For most, it was their first chance at land and home ownership—a chance that many were deprived of by unscrupulous legal maneuverings. From the local history collection of the Carnegie Center ofBrazos Valley History, Bryan Public Library, Bryan, Texas. Burdens ofLandholding in a Freed Slave Settlement: The Case ofBrazos County's "Hall's Town" By Dale Baum* in an economically depressed neighborhood in bryan, texas, on a sweltering summer day in 2006, the Brazos Valley African American Museum officially opened its doors to visitors. Amid the tributes at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, speakers frequendy noted the powerful symbolism ofbuilding a center dedicated to educating future generations about black history and heritage on the former site ofthe city's segregated high school. Others invoked the larger significance ofthe museum's location near the center of what after the Civil War had been the area where newly freed slaves first had an opportunity to occupy, rent, or purchase town lots along the outskirts of the original Bryan city limits—a vicinity that once had been referred to, at least in notations in the Brazos County courthouse records and in polite conversation during the last half of the nineteenth century, as "Hall's Town."1 Those who wish, perhaps understandably, to remember only positive accomplishments rather than tribulations may not care to delve into the full history of the formation of Hall's Town, which became a part ofwhat was subsequendy known for generations as Bryan's "Freedman Town." Nevertheless, most historians ofAfrican-American history understand the need to recover the stories of the victimization ofvoiceless and marginalized ex-slaves in the Reconstruction-era South, an endeavor that includes the largely forgotten origins of the first-setded section of Bryan's Freedman Town and the story of how its landowners acquired property but ?Dale Baum teaches in the Department ofHistory atTexas A&M University. He wishes to thank librarian and genealogist Bill Page, who serves on die Board ofDirectors ofthe BrazosValleyAfrican American Museum, for providing materials essential for the writing of this article. ' Hunter Sauls, "African-American Museum Opens," The Battalion (College Station), July 24, 2006; John William Diem, "The Place-Names ofBrazos County, Texas, 1821 to 1880" (M.S. diesis, Texas A&M University, 1981), 64 (quotation). Vol. CXII, No. 2 Southwestern Historical Quarterly October 2009 1 86Southwestern Historical QuarterlyOctober The Brazos Valley African American Museum (BVAAM), built in 2006. The BVAAM is located on East Pruitt Street (originally East Clay Street) between Preston and Houston streets in what used to be Bryan's Lower Freedmantown. Images used by permission of the Brazos Valley African American Museum. either did not appear in the records or could not hold on to it. In this microcosm of the postwar South, their stories expose the limits of what was possible for those in freedom's first generation struggling to secure just treatment and fair play. In few places in the immediate postwar South did the process ofReconstruction begin more wretchedly than in Brazos County. Arriving in late June 1865 at Millican, the northern terminus of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad (H&TC), the 114th Ohio Volunteer Infantry encountered "hot-headed" hostility from the overwhelming majority ofthe town's white residents. The occupying bluecoats, who were tangible confirmation ofthe Confederacy's defeat, considered themselves under siege when a group of local men annoyed at the arrest of a former rebel soldier for ripping down the United States flag hanging outside the encampment's headquarters, threatened to "kill every officer ifthey have to pick them off one by one." In disgust with the dreadful relations with the townspeople, the unit's regimental surgeon wrote home to his mother that life in Millican , which he called "a miserable cut throat hole," seemed "very little like times ofpeace," and concluded with the wish that the army "had gone through the entire state, and laid it to waste."2 ! George Jackson's diary entry for June 25, 1865, quoted in Jonathan A...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9560
Print ISSN
0038-478X
Pages
pp. 184-204
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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