About Dr. Fred L. McGhee

Dr. Fred L. McGhee at the Santa Rita Courts Historic District, Austin Texas

Dr. Fred L. McGhee is a historical and maritime archaeologist and an urban and environmental anthropologist. A leading independent scholar-activist of the African Diaspora in the United States, he is founder and president of Fred L. McGhee & Associates, the first Black owned and operated archaeological and environmental consulting company in the United States.  He is the author of numerous publications on diverse subjects such as  slave ship archaeology, Afro-Texas history, modernist architecture, residential energy efficiency, language acquisition, Black American Sign Language, German colonialism, the African Diaspora in Hawai’i and the Pacific, public housing history and architecture, home-birthing and other topics.  Some of his writings are available at his Academia.edu page, as well as in the pages of the Austin Chronicle and the Texas Observer.

Dr. McGhee is also a veteran of the United States Navy with over twelve years of service.  A 1986 graduate of the Broadened Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) program, he is one of the first African-American deep-sea diving officers in U.S. Navy history.

Deeply grounded in community, Dr. McGhee has for nearly thirty years been a Texas and Hawai’i based advocate and activist, particularly on affordable housing, education, community policing, and environmental justice issues.  Long active in some of the nation’s toughest public housing neighborhoods, McGhee has been a fixture in local, regional and national advocacy efforts on behalf of the urban poor.  From his work with Austin Interfaith, the Texas Alliance for Human Needs and the Resident Council of Allen Parkway Village in Houston in the 1990’s to his more recent service as a neighborhood association co-founder and member of various City of Austin boards and commissions, Dr. McGhee has been a fixture participant in numerous community based struggles for equity and justice.  Examples of his more recent local public service includes (partial list):  founding president of the Montopolis Neighborhood Association, service on the City of Austin’s Board of Adjustment, board member of the Austin History Center Association, member of the Austin anti-gentrification task force, Austin Community College Campus Advisory Committee member for the Riverside campus, and membership on the Charter Revision Committee that produced a new Austin City Council based on single-member districts.  He was appointed to serve on Austin’s Community Development Commission by Austin mayor Steve Adler in the summer of 2015 and also served as the commission’s representative on Austin’s Joint Sustainability Committee until October of 2017.  His community of Montopolis elected him back to that commission in August of 2018; he served until March of 2019.

Dr. McGhee now serves as president of the Montopolis Community Development Corporation and the Burditt Prairie Preservation Association.  Burditt’s Prairie, located in the Montopolis neighborhood, is one of Travis County’s original Freedmen’s communities.  The cemetery and historic African-American school associated with it dates back to the 1850’s.

In his capacity as an Indigenous archaeologist, Dr. McGhee testified before the 2006 National NAGPRA Review Committee meeting in Denver alongside Larry Running Turtle Salazar of the Gulf Coast Indian Confederation about violations of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) on the part of the Texas Department of Transportation.  His advocacy efforts resulted in TxDOT’s reluctant acknowledgement that it in fact was a museum as defined in NAGPRA and had been improperly discharging its consultation and repatriation obligations.  In 2007 he also testified at and lobbied the Texas legislature about violations of numerous historic preservation laws (including NAGPRA and Sections 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act) by the City of Waco and the Texas Department of Public Safety at the First Street Cemetery in Waco.  These efforts helped Representatives Donna Howard (D-Austin), Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin), and Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) to push for changes to the state health and safety code that protected burials in Texas located on private property—the first time in state history such protections were extended to private property.

As an African-American archaeologist and historian Dr. McGhee has been recognized by the State of Texas for his work with the Texas Slave Descendants Society and its founder the late Reginald Moore in helping to bring greater attention to the history of plantation agriculture, slavery and convict leasing in the city of Sugar Land, and for his historic preservation and environmental justice advocacy alongside the South Texas Alliance of Indigenous Peoples in Corpus Christi.  Dr. McGhee is a pioneer in the development and growth of community based archaeology, and is well known domestically and abroad as a leading practitioner of activist approaches to theory, research as well as practice.

In his capacity as a Maritime Archaeologist, Dr. McGhee is the author of the seminal 1997 paper Toward a Postcolonial Nautical Archaeology, now widely taught in introductory underwater archaeology programs.  His 2008 review of Marcus Rediker’s book The Slave Ship has also been widely downloaded and circulated.

As an urban anthropologist serving as the last Mike Hogg Fellow with the Urban Issues Program at the University of Texas, Dr. McGhee helped to establish the university’s undergraduate degree program in Urban Studies, as well as its doctoral portfolio.  He also authored How HUD’s HOPE VI Program is Destroying a Historic Houston Neighborhood, an early critique that outlined the role played by public housing demolition in the gentrification of historic black neighborhoods.

Dr. McGhee has served as a consultant to institutions such as the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum during its 2006 exhibition of A Slave Ship Speaks:  The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie and its 2009 exhibit Forgotten Gateway:  Coming to America Through Galveston Island.  He has also appeared on film in documentaries such as Mutiny on the Bayou, a 2005 KHOU Houston production about the 1917 Camp Logan Mutiny, and Tomlinson Hill, a 2013 film about history, memory and race relations in Falls County, Texas.

Dr. McGhee is the founder and director of Preserve Rosewood the coalition of grassroots supporters and volunteers that worked to save Austin’s historic Rosewood Courts public housing project from demolition.  Dr. McGhee authored the National Register nomination for the housing development, and previously wrote the National Register nomination for the Santa Rita Courts Historic District in 2006 for which he was honored with a 2008 Heritage Society of Austin preservation award.

In addition to his credentials as a historian and social/environmental scientist, Dr. McGhee is a a 2011 Leadership Austin graduate with numerous building science and greenbuilding certifications from organizations such as the Building Performance Institute, the American Rainwater Catchment Association, the U.S Greenbuilding Council and the International Passive House Institute in Darmstadt, Germany.  He lives and works in an Austin Energy five-star certified greenbuilt Prairie House he built for his family that was featured in local and national media.

He is the author of four books, including a history of Austin’s Montopolis neighborhood, numerous scholarly publications, and several nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, including nominations for the aforementioned public housing and for the second largest Native American burial site in Texas located in Corpus Christi.  In addition to upcoming books about Austin’s historic public housing and an oral history of the Navy’s BOOST program, Dr. McGhee is also at work on a biography of 19th century Texas governor Elisha M. Pease titled “Son of Enfield, Father of Texas: A Look at the Life of Elisha Marshall Pease.”

A German and American national, Dr. McGhee holds a B.S., cum laude, in Linguistics from Northeastern University in Boston, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.  He is the first African-American to graduate from the University of Texas with a Ph.D. in archaeology.  The grandson of a sharecropper and the son of a survivor of World War II, he is the first person in his family to attend college as well as graduate school.

Dr. McGhee holds professional certifications with the University of Hawai’i scientific diving program as well as with the Nautical Archaeology Society, among many others.  He is a member of the Texas commandery of the Naval Order of the United States. Also a martial artist and longtime soccer player and coach, Dr. McGhee is a mid-level ranked Tae Kwon Do practitioner with the American Tae Kwon Do Association and is a licensed youth soccer coach with the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Dr. McGhee has taught at numerous colleges, universities and high schools, including universities and public schools in Texas, the Hawaiian Islands and elsewhere.