Dr. Andrea Roberts is an Associate Professor of Urban + Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia's School of Architecture and has been appointed Co-Director of the School's Center for Cultural Landscapes. She is a scholar-activist who brings 12 years of experience in community development, nonprofit administration, and advocacy to her engaged research and public scholarship, which raises awareness of the entrenched racial biases impeding documentation, recognition, and preservation of historic Black settlements’ cultural assets. She is also a 6th-generation Texan and freedom colony descendant. In 2014, she founded The Texas Freedom Colonies Project, the vehicle through which she mentors and trains future planners, preservationists, scholars, and community-based researchers focused on addressing the biggest challenges facing settlements in Texas and around the country—invisibility, environmental injustice, land loss, heritage conservation, and endangered historic structures and cemeteries. She and her team richly map these settlements and is presented as the interactive The Texas Freedom Colonies Project™, Atlas and Study, which spatializes 557 sites and histories through participatory action and engaged research methods, including oral histories. The African American Cemetery Assessment Tool and Registry also allows the public to share knowledge of burial ground conditions. Her “place preservation” framework—collecting and securing heritage, connecting descendants and resources, and then co-creating applied research solutions-- enables student researchers, partner sites, and Adopt-a-County volunteers to extend The Project’s reach from its beginnings in East Texas to the entire state. The Texas Department of Transportation and the Council of Texas Archeologists use The Atlas to identify African American historic resources at risk. The Journal of Planning History, Buildings and Landscapes, the Journal of the American Planning Association, the Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage, and Environmental Justice have published her peer-reviewed scholarship. She has received awards for her engaged scholarship from The Vernacular Architecture Forum and the Urban Affairs Association. Roberts was a 2020-21 Whiting Public Engagement Fellow, an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant recipient, and a 2020 Visiting Scholar at Yale’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, Abolition. She is the Project Director for the NEH Summer Institute for Higher Education Faculty—"Towards a People's History of Landscape, Part 1: Black & Indigenous Histories of the Nation's Capital.” Dr. Roberts is also the Consultant/Owner of Freedom Colonies Project, LLC, which provides research and DEIA services to preservation organizations. She served as a Texas State Board of Review member and a National Monument Audit Advisory Board member. Dr. Roberts holds a Ph.D. in planning from The University of Texas at Austin (2016), an M.A. in government administration from the University of Pennsylvania (2006), and a B.A. in political science from Vassar College (1996). She is currently writing a book, Never Sell the Land, about her experiences identifying Black planning and historic preservation practices that sustain cultural resilience within settlements founded by formerly enslaved Africans for The University of Texas Press.
Our communities are places rich with layers of history. How can we enter into deeper relationship with our places, opening ourselves to the hurt and harm that the past may hold? How might knowing these histories help us navigate...