Whitney Noel Devin is a photographer and visual storyteller, living and working in Austin, Texas. Whitney works with editorial and commercial clients making work to support groups on the front line of resistance movements in Texas. She earned a B.A. in Latin American Studies from St. Edward's University. Whitney serves on the Board of Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, a transnational solidarity nonprofit that raises awareness about conditions of social and economic injustice along the Texas/Mexico border and supports community-driven resistance. Whitney's Texas family history drives her to explore how her heritage impacts her sense of belonging and responsibility as a queer image-maker of privilege in a state where injustice often prevails.
Tulia is a typo. A post office misspelling in 1887 created the name, which should have been after the nearby Tule creek.
My father is from Tulia. This project is an ongoing personal exploration into the complexities of Tulia’s history and reputation, what that means within the larger context of dying small towns in the U.S., and how this place has shaped who I am.
A prospering area in the early 1900s, freight wagon traffic was booming. The Santa Fe rail line was extended to the town, leading to more settlers seeking economic opportunity. Eighty years later, manufacturing plants and agricultural work provided gainful employment.
In 1999, a drug sting based on the uncorroborated investigations of an independent undercover cop led to the arrest of nearly one-third of Tulia’s black males. Forty-six people were rounded up before dawn, almost all of them black. The cop was awarded Lawman of the Year for the bust. In 2003, thirty-eight of the convictions were thrown out.
Today, reliable industry jobs are rare and the town’s population hovers around 4,900. A quarter of the town’s children under eighteen live below the poverty line.
No one likes to talk about the 1999 bust but some like to claim those who were pardoned blew through their settlement money on cars or ended going up back to prison. This is the panhandle though, where no one likes to dig too deep.