Harrison David Eppright embodies the story of Austin every day.
That’s because he serves as a valued tour guide for Visit Austin as well as a visitor services manager for nonprofit tourism. On most of the non-pandemic days, he entertains and educates tourists, vintage cars, newcomers and potential newcomers on the subject of the city’s deep past as well as its recent developments.
“My father was a history lover,” says Eppright. “He told stories from his life and national history. He was an avid reader. And then the time: I was born in 1955 – America’s mid-century. I was an eyewitness to the story through television, radio and the newspaper. “
Born and raised in East Austin, Eppright also helps the other keepers of the city’s historic flames. For example, he will speak at noon on February 5th during the Angelina Eberly Online Event 2021 to raise funds for the Austin History Center Association. The event includes a performance of “All Aboard! The Train Arrives in Austin, ”a 20-minute piece by Paullette MacDougal.
He shapes his own performances for tourists from the basic materials of Austin.
“I’m inspired by what I see around me, especially in East Austin but all over town,” he says. “I love good stories. And if you look around East Austin today and look at the streets and architecture, you may not know how rich what was before was. ”
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In addition, Eppright is the senior lecturer for Six Square: Austin’s Black Cultural District, a nonprofit that aims to preserve the community and heritage of what was identified as the “Negro District” on the 1928 city map. Headquarters is on San Barnard Street on the same block as the historic Wesley United Methodist Church.
“When I was a boy and lived on San Bernard, it was a sign that you had arrived,” he told Tribeza magazine in 2017.
On both sides of the family, Eppright’s roots in the region go back to the time of slavery.
He is named after his two grandfathers. His paternal grandfather was named Harrison Charles Eppright, whose father was the son of an enslaved person, and their slave who adopted the offspring. His maternal grandfather was David W. Bedford, whose father was enslaved and who later took the name of the family who had enslaved him.
“We were descended directly from the white epprights,” he says. “It was a mark of distinction among the Black Epprights that they did not adopt this name after emancipation. It was a mark of social distinction, just like race and perception back then.”
His great-uncle Andrew H. Eppright was born in 1894 and served as a private citizen during World War I. He died in 1975 at the age of 81.
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Harrison grew up on Greenwood Avenue east of Evergreen Cemetery. Movies meant a trip to the Harlem Theater. A haircut meant going to Marshall’s Barber Shop on East 12th Street with his father.
“A by-product of segregation was that blacks of all classes lived close together,” says Eppright. “So prosperity and poverty in a few streets from each other.”
While Eppright doesn’t shy away from the history of racial oppression in the city, his eyes are always on the wider horizon as well.
“When I talk to people outside the city, I want them to remember that we are the capital, a very historical, social, cultural, ethnic and educational city,” he says. “Austin is more than the sum of its parts.”
Like everyone who deals with out-of-towers, he encounters frequent misperceptions.
“They think there’s not much going on here outside of music,” says Eppright. “They also think that all of Texas is flat. You are surprised at Austin’s topography. They don’t think Austin has much history. Many seem to believe that Texas history revolves around the Alamo in San Antonio. They don’t think about the historical importance of Austin as the capital of Texas. “
He encourages newcomers to read materials archived at the Austin History Center and the Texas Historical Commission, as well as books about Austin that are available at stores such as BookPeople and Sue Patrick.
Eppright – whose warm voice, deep laugh, and clear portrayal suggest a background in theater as well as a time when his teachers emphasized manners, behavior, and language – combines his dramatic and historical skills for his tours and performances.
On Sundays, Eppright serves as a lay reader and choir member at St. James Episcopal Church.
Eppright believes that Austin’s current breakneck growth, while disrupting many communities, also provides an opportunity to tell more stories about the city’s history.
“Austin attracts tourists and researchers interested in Austin’s past,” he says. “So it’s exciting to identify and preserve Austin’s past. I think we’re doing a pretty good job, but there is always room for improvement. We must encourage the Austinites to join their role in identifying and restoring this past. This story is not just the past – it is the present and the future, as are the roles that people of all colors and races play in Austin’s history. “
Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2021 Angelina Eberly Digital Event
This event is the largest fundraiser of the year for the Austin History Center Association. Single tickets start at $ 76.99 and there are table options as well. The event starts on February 5th at 12:00 noon.
Tickets are available at austinhistory.net