Performance as place preservation: The role of storytelling in the formation of Shankleville Community's Black counterpublics
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© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. From 1870 to 1920, previously enslaved Texans founded more than 540 ‘freedom colonies.’ Since then, descendants left behind seemingly intangible Black geographies where evidence of their placemaking has disappeared. However, in Shankleville, Texas, settlement founder descendants sustained attachments to, and stewardship of, their communities, even as the population decreased and physical manifestations of place dissipated. To understand how place attachments are sustained in Shankleville, I analyze descendants’ stories, storytelling practices, and the spaces in which these performances take place. In these counterpublic spaces, descendants reproduce an identity rooted in a foundational story about their freedom-seeking, fugitive slave founders. Their ritual performances of these stories at a sacred spring in Shankleville cement attachments and catalyze descendants’ involvement in heritage conservation and preservation projects. The meanings and values informing these commemorative practices disrupt commonly held assumptions about Black community formation, Black heritage, and what constitutes legitimate preservation practice.
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