"In the neighborhood" : city planning, archaeology, and cultural heritage politics at St. Paul United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas




Skipper, Jodi

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What happens to a historically African American church when its local African American community no longer exists? Can attempts to emphasize its historic heritage help it to survive? In this dissertation, I consider the racial politics of urban gentrification and the ways in which one historic Black church community utilizes cultural heritage politics as a survival strategy and resistance to city planning in the city of Dallas, Texas. This case study is part of a much broader phenomenon dating to the post-WWII era whereby U.S. local, state, and federal government officials “redeveloped” urban neighborhoods as part of urban renewal plans. Some of these government actions resulted in drastic changes to neighborhood landscapes, displacing entire “minority” communities. Affected by similar circumstances, the St. Paul Church community chose to remain in its original neighborhood and restore its historic building, rather than bend to the will of Dallas city planners.
In particular, I examine two church heritage projects; a public archaeology project in which a shotgun house site was excavated on the church property and a public history project which resulted in an interpretive history exhibition on the church. I examine how this church community became involved in these two projects and whether these approaches are practical to the historic preservation of this church community. Basic contributions of this work include: 1) filling gaps in public archaeology research by examining a public archaeology project, beyond the excavation, and critiquing its viability in jeopardized urban contexts, 2) analyzing strategies of political mobilization around heritage politics; 3) determining which Black communities are more likely to engage in and benefit from this type of political mobilization; and 4) problematizing what constitutes giving the power to a community to negotiate its past in the present. This dissertation project finds that although African-American and other minority groups are often politically and economically disadvantaged when challenging eminent domain abuse, these communities are not powerless. The St. Paul community’s utilization of heritage politics as a means to avert eminent domain abuse is one case in point.




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