Fight to preserve Houston’s first and largest Black settlement making progress

Founded back in 1865, historic Freedmen’s Town located in Houston’s Fourth Ward is the city’s first, and largest Black settlement.

Those working to preserve the community say it’s been an uphill battle but there is progress being made in helping to maintain and restore it.

“My family was part of the planners and developers of Freedmen’s town,” said Gladys House-El.

Like her roots, the passion House-El has for Freedmen’s town runs deep. She still lives in her ancestors’ home.

“This house dates back to the 1800′s when my family, the Felders sold blocks of ice out of the house, you know, family-owned business,” she said.

House-El’s ancestors were among the pioneers, many of who were freed slaves that settled here after Juneteenth and built their own schools, homes, and churches.

“Freedmen, it also meant, well look, we are buying our own land. Nobody giving us anything, so nobody gave us anything, we are freed from that,” she said.

The bricks that lined the streets of Freedmen’s town were made in the community and were laid by people from the community.

Today, dependents say it’s a struggle to keep the roads in their original form.

In the gentrifying neighborhood, preventing demolition of the classic row houses have also been a struggle.

“We have only about 40, 50 structures left that are historic when originally there were 500 in this district,” said Zion Escobar who is the Executive Director of the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy.

Like House-El, her mission is to keep this part of Houston’s history from being erased.

“What’s being discussed at city hall right now you heard, ‘Freedmen’s Town, Freedmen’s Town, Independence Heights, Freedmen’s town,’ many many times during council yesterday because everybody recognizes that this place is special.

The ordinance to create Conservation Districts in Houston is being considered by city council right now. If it passes it would enable Freedmen’s town residents to choose to become a conservation district, which could offer more protections that will preserve crucial parts of this community for years to come.

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