History books tell us that the Emancipation Proclamation, signed January 1, 1863, was the document that freed the slaves.
We here in Texas know that freedom came late to the south and it wasn’t until June 19, 1865, that the abolishment of
slavery announcement arrived on the shores of Galveston, Texas.
The freedmen and freedwomen began to leave their plantations and seek land.
The 61 historically African American areas the former slaves created across 24 states, became known as Freedmens Towns. The largest migration being to Houston, Texas.
Marked by handmade bricks paved along the roadway, Fourth Ward Houston, Texas became the Freedmen’s Town Historical District.
Many travelers came by way of the Brazos River (that often overflows during flood season *rolls eyes*) from river plantations south of Houston and from Louisiana.
By 1930, Houston held approximately 36,000 African American residents in this area alone. Becoming famous for its restaurants, Jazz clubs and culture, the town even attracted white Houstonians.
The area contained its own schools, grocery stores, and churches such as Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, the first African American Baptist Church in Houston that still stands today.
The residents were able to not only flourish as a community but they were able to live without daily ridicule and discrimination.
But of course, the story would be too good if society just let our people be great.
The Freedmens towns residents were still subject to segregation and as an result they experienced redlining practices that prevented them going to other parts of the city.
In 1929, the Houston City Planning Committee even suggested that they make permanent boundary lines for the African American communities and limit them to Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Ward.
Even back then! Such a thing was illegal.
Eventually they began to expand Downtown Houston and as a result, the original Freedmens town became threatened.
Parts of the district were replaced by the new City Hall, the Albert Thomas Convention Center, the Gulf Freeway, the Allen Parkway Village, a public housing project.
San Felipe Courts, one of the largest public housing projects in the city was initially promised to allow the residents from Freedmens town access. After World War II the area was reserved for white military families.
They would not allow black residents until 1968.
By the time the 70s rolled around, preservationists had begun working on conserving the history that remained of the Freedmens town. The town became a nationally registered historical site in 1865.
If you find yourself exploring in Houston, take a trip to the Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum which was founded in the community in 1996.
Locate you a brick in the Quad and know it was a part of history.
Our ancestors paved the way and literally started with nothing.
Makes you wonder what a flourishing black community would look like today when we have access to so much.