Freedmen's Town in Houston's Fourth Ward voted city's 1st Heritage District

Erica Simon Image
Thursday, June 17, 2021
Freedmen's Town voted Houston's 1st Heritage District
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It was once home to 95% of Houston's Black population and now, it's officially the city's first Heritage District.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It was a joyous day for those who know and love Houston's Fourth Ward.

On Wednesday, the Houston City Council officially voted to make Freedmen's Town a Heritage District and it's the first designation of its kind.

"It's so important to at least do what we can to hold on to as much as that history and not lose it, because it defines us in large parts of who we are as a city," said Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Some may have never heard of Freedmen's Town, which is nestled just below the downtown skyline. It was once booming and vibrant, and within just a few short years, its residents went from the shackles of slavery to innovation and entrepreneurship.

A total of 400 Black-owned businesses were in the community and in the early 1900s, it was home to 95% of Houston's Black population.

"These folks came from nothing and they taught themselves and their children how to build their homes," said Zion Escobar, the executive director for Houston Freedmen's Town Conservancy. "They built their own schools, their own libraries, you know, their own places of worship that are still here today just adjacent to us."

City Council spoke at length about Freedmen's Town's legacy before unanimously voting on the designation.

The move now paves the way for wayfinding and signage -- along with permission for nonprofit organizations to raise money for restoration and preservation.

It's a win for the Houston Freedmen's Town Conservancy.

"There are no words for how I feel right now," said Escobar. "Like, this is what Juneteenth must have felt like, right? Is to have your freedom, your humanity and your heritage recognized."

With gentrification and new structures being built all the time, much of Freedmen's Town has been either boxed in or lost. The hope is to save what's left in a big way.

"This is step one in a 20-step process on our way to many great things, including the Emancipation National Historic Trail, and hopefully, in the future, a world heritage site should we have the honor to be nominated," Escobar said with a smile.

Freedmen's Town is hosting a Juneteenth block party on Saturday, June 19, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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