HOUSTON – Here’s a look at some of the key Houston historical anniversaries coming up during this particular calendar year.
150 years ago: Emancipation Park opened
Although the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in the South in 1863, Texas did not receive news of the proclamation until Union General Gordon Granger proclaimed it in Galveston on June 19, 1865. Freed people began celebrating the day as Juneteenth. Houston Reverend Jack Yates, a Baptist minister and former slave, led an effort among the city’s African-American community to collect money and purchase land dedicated to Juneteenth celebrations. Yate’s church, Antioch Baptist, and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church formed the Colored People’s Festival and Emancipation Park Association and in 1872, they pooled $1,000 to purchase ten acres of land which they named Emancipation Park.
110 years ago: Rice University opened
On Sept. 12, 1912, Rice University opened with 77 students and a dozen faculty members. Four years later, at the university’s initial commencement, 35 bachelor’s degrees and one master’s degree were awarded. The first doctorate was conferred two years later in 1918.
100 years ago: Houston Zoo opened
In 1922, the City of Houston moved its collection of animals to a fenced area in Hermann Park, establishing the beginnings of what we recognize now as the Houston Zoo, according to Barrie Scardino Bradley’s “Houston’s Hermann Park, A Century of Community.” Under the direction of eclectic zookeeper Hans Nagel, the zoo acquired hundreds of additional animals, including two Asian elephants, over the preceding decades.
75 years ago: Texas Southern University established
Texas Southern University was established on March 3, 1947 by the fiftieth Texas Legislature. The institution became the first state-supported institution in the City of Houston. In 1951, the university’s name changed from Texas State University for Negroes to Texas Southern University after students petitioned the state legislature to remove the phrase “for Negroes.”
75 years ago: Texas City Disaster
On April 16, 1947, the S.S. Grandcamp, which was docked in Texas City and loaded with 2,300 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, exploded. 16 hours later, a nearby ship which was also loaded with ammonium nitrate, exploded. The combined explosions resulted in the country’s largest industrial disaster, claiming the lives of an estimated 500 to 600 people and injuring thousands more, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
75 years ago: Alley Theatre established
In 1946, San Jacinto High School drama teacher Nina Vance took a leave of absence to direct plays for the Jewish Community Center. With encouragement from her friends, Vance soon began assembling a local theatre group. Using $2.14 she found in her purse, Vance purchased 214 penny postcards. On them she wrote “It’s beginning! ‘’ Do you want a new theater for Houston?” and on Oct. 7, 1947, more than 100 postcard recipients met Vance to discuss a new theatre company. The group assembled in a small dance studio at the end of a long alleyway, which inspired the company’s name: The Alley. Just two months later, on Nov. 18, 1947, the new company presented its first production, a war play titled A Sound of Hunting.
50 years ago: Space Shuttle Program began
On Jan. 5, 1972, President Richard Nixon announced the creation of the Space Shuttle Program. Humanity’s first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttles represented a giant leap forward in space travel technology. NASA launched Columbia, the first space shuttle, in 1981.
50 years ago: Contemporary Arts Museum Houston opened
In 1972, the Contemporary Arts Museum opened on the corner of Montrose Boulevard and Bissonnet Street, across from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
25 years ago: City elected its first Black mayor
Houston elected its first Black mayor, Lee P. Brown, into office in 1997. Brown was re-elected twice and served as the city’s mayor from 1998 until 2004.
20 years ago: The Houston Texans joined the NFL
The Houston Texans began their inaugural NFL season at Reliant Stadium (Now NRG Stadium) in 2002. The team won their opening game victory against the Dallas Cowboys on September 8, 2002. The Texans remain the youngest franchise in the league.
Sources: Alley Theatre website, City of Houston website, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Contemporary Arts Museum website, Barrie Scardino Bradley’s “Houston’s Hermann Park, A Century of Community,” Texas Southern University website, Rice University website, NASA website, NFL website