Apr 5, 2023 - News

UT exhibit examines segregation-era signage found at Battle Hall

A new exhibit at the University of Texas School of Architecture examines 1910-era signage discovered during renovations to Battle Hall. Photo: Courtesy of Thanh Le/University of Texas

A new exhibition at the University of Texas School of Architecture examines 1910-era racist signage discovered during renovations to Battle Hall.

Driving the news: In 2021, a member of the design team for Battle Hall discovered a handwritten sign reading "For Whites" on a previously hidden interior wall.

  • The sign, likely written between 1910-1911 during segregation, excluded Black construction workers from using certain restrooms, according to Tara Dudley, an assistant architecture professor who led the research into the sign.
  • Built as UT's main library, the edifice was named in 2007 among the top 150 favorite works of architecture by the American Institute of Architects.
A photo of the signage discovered in Battle Hall during renovations to the building. Photo: Courtesy of Charles Amos Horn/University of Texas

Why it matters: The signage is a glimpse into a shameful history of segregation at UT and beyond, and after consulting with Dudley and her advisory team, school officials decided that the finding shouldn't be kept from the public.

  • Instead, it could be an opportunity to contextualize the construction of the university and the Black laborers who built the campus but were not allowed to attend classes there until 1956.

What they're saying: Dudley said she and her student researchers understood "that we didn't want to just hide this discovery. We didn't want it to just go away."

  • "It should be used as a pedagogical tool to talk about the history of the university, but to also … contextualize the signage and figure out how it fits into the history of the campus and in the city of Austin and U.S. history," Dudley told Axios.
The exterior of Battle Hall, where a segregation-era sign was uncovered during renovation of the building. Photo: Courtesy of Nathan Sheppard/UT School of Architecture

What they did: Dudley led graduate research assistants in analyzing online newspapers, documents, and genealogical databases at the Briscoe Center, Austin History Center, and the Texas State Library and Archives.

  • Their findings became part of an exhibit — now available to the public — at UT's School of Architecture, which walks visitors through the discovery of the signage and details about the African American stonemasons who worked on Battle Hall and throughout Austin.
  • Viewers can examine photos of the signage and a display of payroll stubs, which helped Dudley and student researchers identify many of the craftsmen and laborers who worked on the campus.
  • Photos also show African American laborers installing the statues honoring Confederate figures that were removed from UT's main mall in 2016 and 2017.

Between the lines: Dudley's student research projects also laid the groundwork for the reinterpretation of the quarters for enslaved people in the Neill-Cochran House Museum on West Campus.

Of note: The university decided to cover the writing rather than leave it exposed, but the project architect devised a system that would protect the writing and allow for access if additional study is needed.

What's next: The exhibit is on display at the Mebane Gallery in Goldsmith Hall through April 14.


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