Major efforts underway to restore, preserve Houston’s oldest Black community

 Stronger Houston: Efforts underway to preserve Freedman's Town
Stronger Houston: Efforts underway to preserve Freedman's Town

HOUSTON – Freedmen’s Town at one time had more than 500 homes, today there are only about 40 left.

Gladys House-El has roots that run deep in that area of the 4th Ward, which was developed by freed slaves beginning circa 1865. Today, she lives in the home her family business operated out of decades ago.

“I’m the fifth generation of the planners and developers of Freedmen’s Town,” House-El said. “My family sold blocks of ice on the back of a horse-drawn buggy.”

Right down the street from House-El’s home is the former home of master printer Rutherford Yates, which is now the Yates Museum showcasing the area’s history.

“They had 13 blacksmiths living here. They had 34 brick makers and installers living here. They had every trade,” said museum city-founder, Catherine Roberts.

Just walking the streets it’s obvious the community is steeped in pride and tradition, but there’s been a struggle to preserve it.

“Eminent domain has been used to wipe out our heritage as well, you know, the railroads running through the community or freeways,” House-El said.

Gentrification has led to developers buying out properties from owners. Many historic homes have been destroyed or replaced with newer more expensive properties.

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