City of Houston breaks ground on park at former site of historic church in Fourth Ward

Years after a devastating fire, what is left of a historic church in the Fourth Ward is being turned into a public park
December 14, 2013 8:26:44 PM PST
The site of a historic church in Houston's Fourth Ward is getting new life.

The city broke ground on its newest park while remembering the church that stood there before a raging fire took it destroyed most of it.

"This is marvelous," Archie Bourgeois said. "I never thought I'd live to see this day."

Bourgeois, 91, was all smiles Saturday. After all, it was a big day for this loyal member of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.

It was the groundbreaking for the new Bethel Park inside the burned-out walls where his church once stood.

"It makes me feel real good," Bourgeois said. "It's a blessing that this has taken place."

Bourgeois was a member back in 2005 when the church burned down. The blaze left members of this community who are familiar with the church's rich history wondering what next.

The church was founded in the late 1800s by former slave and Pastor Jack Yates in "Freedman's Town" -- the area established by freed slaves after the Civil War.

"The people who formerly stood here, worked her, worshipped here, were a part of this great community -- the city of Houston," said Jackie Bostic, Yates' great-granddaughter.

After the fire, city leaders sprang into action, working with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department along with the Harris County Historical Commission, Fourth Ward Redevelopment Authority and current city leaders on $4.2 million in renovations to preserve the church site and to preserve history.

"I'm just happy that this day has arrived," Bourgeois said. "I'm happy to be here and I rejoice over what has been done."

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