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Commission recommends historic designation for Overton House

Tuesday, November 18, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Volma Overton has been gone for three years, and his wife Warneta for three months, but people still stop by the couple’s modest frame house on Springdale Road, son Volma Jr. told the Historic Landmark Commission on Monday night.


For a generation, the Overtons’ house signified the fight of the city’s African-American community for equality. Volma Overton, on behalf of his daughter, filed the case to desegregate the Austin Independent School District in 1969. He organized the “read in” demonstration that led to the creation of the city’s Human Rights Commission in 1964 and served as a charter member of the new commission. In addition, the long-time civil rights leader served as president of the Austin chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.


In fact, the Overtons’ house on Springdale Road was the office of the NAACP for the first four years that Overton’s 24-year tenure at the helm of the NAACP, back in the early 1960s. He also worked as the Cedar Creek postmaster for 28 years.


Volma Overton Jr., who is in his 60s himself, told the Historic Landmark Commission he remembered the years he spent in the house through the struggle for civil rights. Even today, knowing that both his parents have passed, people stop by the Overton home.


“It’s a special place in that community, and it’s because it has been a central point for the civil rights movement,” Overton said. “People remember it as something special.”


Volma Overton died in 2005. His wife died in August. Both are buried at the Texas State Cemetery. Their son is the caretaker for his family’s home. In recent months, it had occurred to the younger Overton that this was a special place to many people, one that should bear a historic landmark designation.


Over the years – and the Overtons lived there for five decades – the Springdale house was well known for its ice cream socials and the many high-profile people who passed through its doors, including Congressman JJ “Jake” Pickle and State Rep. Wilhelmina Delco. Eventually, the Austin Independent School District would name a school in Overton’s honor.


The modest house’s architecture, however, is not something that would draw attention. The Overtons, who moved into the house in 1952, were of modest means. The house itself is a one-story wing and gable with a second-story addition on the back.


However, while the architecture might have been modest, the Overtons’ efforts to integrate Austin are well documented. According to the documents provided by the family, wife Warneta was as progressive as her husband, refusing to take her daughter to San Antonio to the region’s only black orthodontist. Instead, she found an orthodontist who would see her daughter after hours until, finally, they were being seen during business hours.


The Overtons, in fact, go back generations in Travis County. Volma Overton’s great grandmother Emmaline came and bought acreage out in Eastern Travis County. Overton himself was born in Maha, southeast of Austin. In order to get an education, he traveled to the only schools set aside for blacks at the time: the first Kealing Junior High and Anderson High School. Volma Overton Sr. graduated in 1942.


Commissioner Joe Arriaga made the motion for historic designation. Daniel O’Leary seconded the motion and the commission approved it unanimously. The recommendation now moves on to Council.

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