HOUSTON – Houston City Council voted to pass the Heritage District ordinance and named Freedmen’s Town the city’s first official Heritage District.
Freedmen’s Town, often referred to as the “Harlem of the South,” was established in 1865 by newly emancipated African Americans who purchased land and created a community in Houston’s Fourth Ward. Freedmen’s Town is on the National Register of Historic Places. Multiple locations in and around Freedmen’s Town have been designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, as a “Site of memory associated with the Slave Route Project” including the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum, Bethel Park, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, and the African American Library at the Gregory School.
“I can think of no better community to designate as Houston’s first heritage district than Freedmen’s Town, and no better day than Juneteenth to share the good news,” said Turner in a statement. “We thank the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy for spearheading the efforts that have led to the development of heritage districts, which will benefit communities across the city.”
The Heritage District designation resulted from a new Heritage District ordinance, which allows approved nonprofit organizations to protect, restore and install significant elements in the city’s recognized historic and culturally significant areas. In contrast to a Historic District designation, which protects private property, a Heritage District designation allows selected nonprofits to make changes to public land in the designated area. A Heritage District designation does not apply to private property.
“We are so excited to introduce this new designation that will open doors for community-led preservation and beautification efforts in the public right-of-way,” said Planning and Development Department Director Margaret Wallace Brown in a statement.
The Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy will oversee the restoration and development of Freedmen’s Town. The Conservancy will be solely responsible for funding any improvements, according to a release.
“This heritage district designation will infuse desperately needed energy and assist the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy to raise capital to protect, preserve, educate, and engage Houston and the world in ‘Telling the Story of Freedom’ in Freedmen’s Town” said Eileen Lawal, Freedmen’s Town Conservancy Board President in a statement.