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Houston History: Meet Jack Yates, a prominent local black leader who was born enslaved

John Henry 'Jack' Yates
John Henry 'Jack' Yates (KPRC)

HOUSTON – During the post Civil War era, Rev. Jack Yates was a prominent black who played a significant impact on the black community in Houston.

Born on July 11, 1828, in Gloucester Country, John Henry “Jack” Yates was the son of two slaves. As a child, he learned how to read and write, although, during that era, it was illegal for slaves to be educated and learn those skills.

Yates married Harriet Willis of a neighboring plantation and the couple had 11 children together. By 1863, Harriet’s owner moved to Matagorda County in Texas. Yates at the time pleaded to leave, giving up his freedom to be with his wife and family.

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After emancipation, Yates and his family moved to Freedmen’s Town in Houston, a new community of freed slaves near the banks of Buffalo Bayou.

Yates worked as a drayman during the day and night he was was a Baptist preacher. His missionary work and leadership led him to become a founding pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Houston’s first black Baptist church in 1866.

Three years later in 1869, Yates became a homeowner and bought several lots on what is now Andrews Street. On one lot, he built his a two-story house, which still stands today Sam Houston Park.

In 1872, the church, under Yates’s leadership, purchased Emancipation Park on Dowling street, becoming the first public park for black Houstonians.

Yates wasn’t only a minister. He firmly believed in education. In 1885, he founded Houston Academy, a school for black children.

Three days before Christmas in 1897, Yates died at the age of 69. Jack Yates High School was named in his honor.

Jack Yates Plaque
Jack Yates Plaque (KPRC)

Watch a brief history on the Jack Yates House


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