Houston History: The city’s oldest and most important Black neighborhood

Photograph of a historic property in Texas. (University of North Texas Libraries)

HOUSTON – As you stroll down Andrews Street, just west of Downtown, you’ll see the slightly red-bricks paved in the streets. For residents in this area, these bricks are not only the foundation of the streets but a piece of history that was started by their ancestors.

In 1839 when Houston was beginning to develop, the founders chartered the city into four wards.

1913 map of the six wards of Houston (KPRC)

Just southwest of Downtown Houston on the southern edge of Buffalo Bayou, the fourth ward became known as Freedmen’s Town.

Freedmen’s Town resembled its name. After the emancipation was proclaimed in 1865, thousands of freed slaves flooded into Texas and Louisiana, a majority calling Houston home, specifically this new swampy area near the bayou.

This community grew rapidly, at one point consisting of one-third of Houston’s population.

However, things spiraled downwards at the turn of the 20th century. The Fourth Ward, once a vibrant area filled with businesses, jazz night clubs and churches would slowly begin to vanish.

After the 1930s the expansion of the city caused the destruction of this once populated area. Homes began being demolished for the expansion of highways, housing developments, and businesses.

This eventually caused many black homeowners to move out of the Fourth Ward. For the next following decades, Freedmen’s Town namesake disappeared and communities such as Montrose and Midtown appeared.

After years of attempting to preserve this historic community, in 1985, Freedmen’s Town was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, preservationists continue to fight to preserve the city’s oldest and most important black neighborhood. Although only a few remaining structures and shotgun-style homes are left, you can still walk past the worn bricks that built these streets.