Pictures from a Texas Freedom Colony

feat upshaws
© Richard Orton

25 Years of Pictures from a Texas Freedom Colony

Photographer Richard Orton documents the Upshaw family of County Line

(SAN ANTONIO) – In the years following the Civil War and emancipation, newly freed African Americans in Texas began determining their own destinies and building their own lives as independent, free men and women. A part of this newfound freedom and self-determination was establishing new communities and ways of life.

From March 11 to April 30, the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will display the works of Richard Orton, whose photography comprises "The Upshaws of County Line: An American Family." Orton spent 25 years documenting life in County Line, a Texas Freedom Colony established in Nacogdoches County, Texas, in the 1870s.

Guss, Felix and Jim Upshaw established the town as a safe place to make a living and raise a family. Descendants of the three brothers still make their homes in County Line. Orton will present 30 black-and-white images from his time documenting County Line, telling the story of the town and the families that call it home.

Orton first visited County Line in the 1980s, more than a century after its establishment. As an outsider, encountering this enclave of African American Texans, whose families had made their homes in the small town for generations, was completely foreign to him. His experience inspired him to try to capture a sense of the community through his art.

"We’re pleased to be able share Richard’s photography," said Bryan Howard, Director of Research, Exhibits, and Collections. "We’re preparing an exhibit on Texas Freedom Colonies to open next summer, and this is a wonderful glimpse into the legacy of these communities."

The Institute of Texan Cultures is located on the UTSA Hemisfair Campus, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd., a short distance from the Alamo and the River Walk. Regular hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday.  Admission is $10 for adults (12-64); $8 for seniors (ages 65+) and children (6-11); children 5 and under free; free with membership, UTSA or Alamo Colleges identification. For more information, call 210-458-2300 or visit


©2014 Institute of Texan Cultures. University of Texas at San Antonio. All Rights Reserved.


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