On My Block: 12th & Chicon

The area around 12th & Chicon streets is in the midst of a radical change that's been decades in the making. KUT is exploring what happens when a place becomes valuable to a new group of people.

For more, check out our website for the series or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play or the direct feed.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

On a Sunday in late April, Pastor Clarence Jones asked his congregation to join him.

"Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together. Congregation?" he said, his voice booming from the front of the church. Roughly 40 congregants seated in the pews responded: "I saw the Lord and he heard me ..."

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

KUT's Jennifer Stayton spoke with Nefertiti Jackmon, executive director of Six Square, and Natasha Madison of the 12th Street Merchants' Association at a live broadcast during Morning Edition from the Urban Co-Lab on 12th and Chicon streets. The broadcast can be heard in its entirety here. 


In October, KUT embarked on a project to tell the story of a neighborhood in transition: the area around 12th and Chicon streets in East Austin. Decades ago, it was a center of black life in the city, but over the past few years, the forces of gentrification have taken hold.

The series was called On My Block.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

As the Austin Independent School District deals with declining enrollment and decisions about facilities and campuses, many wonder if students across the district are getting the same quality of education. AISD school board member Ted Gordon, who represents District 1 in East and Northeast Austin, joined KUT’s Jennifer Stayton to discuss achievement gaps and possible solutions in the district.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Walk into Rio Rita’s new location at 12th and Chicon on a Friday night, and you’re likely to see a single-file line leading up to the bar. Behind it, two bartenders mix up complicated craft cocktails with homemade infused spirits. Sarah Tibbits, Rio Rita’s manager, says the line, which customers form on their own, is a carryover from the old location on East Sixth Street. 

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

While Austin’s overall population has exploded over the past few decades, Austin’s black population has declined the past 20 years. From 2000 to 2010, African-Americans were the only racial group in Austin that saw a drop in numbers. Austin was also the only fast-growing city in the country that had a decrease in its black population during that stretch.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

On the East Side, development and rising property costs continue to force the African-American community out. With such rapid migration, how have the neighborhood's history and culture and the city’s African-American population been preserved?

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Matthew Malcolm Kleinman and Andreas Mueller have fond memories of their childhood on the East Side.

“Old people used to sit on their porches and watch us, yelling at us while we were running through their yards, ‘Get off my grass!’” Matt laughs.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

At the beginning of KUT's 12th and Chicon project, we told the story of Anderson High School — a beacon of the black community in East Austin until its forced closure in 1971 as part of desegregation. But Anderson wasn’t the only neighborhood school to close. Kealing Junior High School did, too. It was reopened in the mid-1980s as a neighborhood school with a magnet program, but the tensions of the past still linger in the school’s hallways.

Kenisha Coburn is trying to change that. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Pastor Clarence Jones has a meeting with a potential buyer in just a few minutes. He’s been having a lot of these meetings over the past two years, ever since church leaders decided to put the Greater Saint John Baptist Church up for sale.

“Hopefully it will sell and we can relocate,” he says, “so that’s what we’re looking forward to at this time.”

Property ownership can be a stealth business, with land changing hands before anyone even has time to notice.

For the past four years, one North Texas company has quietly bought up property on East 12th Street. Ironically, the company takes its name from a cry of surprise and discovery: Eureka!

Austin History Center

On a vacant lot at the corner of East 12th and Salina streets, Ada Harden sees a silver screen where a fence now stands.

“Can you imagine a theater sitting right here?” she asks, giggling. She certainly can.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Colette Pierce Burnette didn’t have the smoothest of landings when she arrived in Austin just over two years ago.

She fell in the Atlanta airport and was dependent on ride-hailing apps to get around for the first couple of weeks. To add insult to injury, most of her drivers didn’t know how to get to her new workplace, Huston-Tillotson University, where she was taking over as the school’s president.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

The Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex sits at the corner of Hargrave and Rosewood in East Austin, but its story starts several blocks west on 12th and Chicon. And it starts with a tragedy.

It was near that corner, a couple days after Christmas in 1992, when 16-year-old Tamika Ross was killed. According to reports at the time, she and her friends were hanging out in a church parking lot. A car drove up and shots rang out, leaving Tamika dead and five others injured.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

In the neighborhood around 12th and Chicon streets in East Austin, change seems to be the only constant. We've been bringing you the voices of people in that neighborhood over the past few months as part of our On My Block project. Today, we hear from Gary Tharp, who owns the Texas Sausage Company on 12th Street. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

It’s lunchtime at the Quickie Pickie on East 11th Street. Customers fill the patio tables and several others line up to order food inside. Manager Mohammad Walid describes the business as part restaurant, part convenience store.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Reedy Spigner, 45, straddles a gray carpet strewn with empty glass bottles and pieces of tape – just some of the things left behind in a move. In front of him is an entire wall of windows. From there, he looks out onto East 22nd Street and is transported some 35 years into the past.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Danny Fowler stands in the middle of his driveway holding a vase full of red flowers.

He is taking them to his neighbor, who lives just across the street, over the crest of the steep hill that cuts this East Austin cul-de-sac in two. The street, which begins as E.M. Franklin Avenue before morphing into Grant Street, makes up Ebony Acres, a historically black neighborhood.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News

In between classes at Kealing Middle School the hallways are full of students, but in the library it's quiet. That's where Gabriel Russell and Joshua Morgan are sitting at a table, talking.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

In the neighborhood around 12th and Chicon streets in East Austin – a lot has changed – new homes, new businesses, new residents – but there are some things that have stayed the same.

As part of our On My Block series, KUT’s Lauren Hubbard brings us to Marshall’s Barbershop, a longtime fixture in the neighborhood that’s now one of the few black-owned businesses in the neighborhood.

Check out more stories in this project at our On My Block Tumblr

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