“The land represents the blood, heart, and soul of our African American heritage.”
When photographer Marti Corn moved to The Woodlands, Texas, in 1996, she found herself living next to the subject of what would become her first book: the town of Tamina.
“Literally across the tracks” from The Woodlands, as Corn says, Tamina is a small community just north of Houston. Founded in 1871 by freed slaves, Tamina (originally known as Tammany) flourished for decades, benefiting from the logging industry and a railroad that ran from Houston to Conroe. It’s the oldest freedman town in Texas and one of the last emancipation communities of its kind left in the country; descendants of the original freed-slave founders still live in town.
But in the 1960s and ’70s, affluent suburbs like Shenandoah, Chateau Woods, Oak Ridge, and The Woodlands grew, pushing up against poorer, rural Tamina. This juxtaposition is what drew Corn to Tamina. As she met its residents, she thought she could help create awareness of the town and its history through her photography. “At the very least,” Corn says, “I could gift those who live in Tamina with a book of portraits and their stories so their descendants would know where they came from.”
Consider Corn’s mission accomplished. Her book, The Ground on Which I Stand(published by Texas A&M University as part of its Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life), is a nuanced portrait of the town, filled out by archival family photos and a history of the town
The book compiles oral histories of 15 families, from those whose trace their lineage in Tamina for seven generations to relative newcomers. Resilience and pride in Tamina are common threads throughout the book, tying together family stories into a wonderful tribute.
As Annette Hardin, one of the descendants of the founding families, told Corn, “The value developers place on our land is vastly different than ours. What they don’t understand is that it’s not just our property—it’s our legacy. The land represents the blood, heart, and soul of our African American heritage.”