HOUSTON – Houston is rich in Black culture and one local influencer is making sure its historic sites built by influential African Americans are not forgotten.
Marketer and consultant KeAndre’ Jordan, who is the creator of the platform “My Southern Brand,” is widely known for his viral content centered around Black-owned restaurants in Houston, but in an attempt to set his brand apart, he decided to create a series during Black History Month that would introduce people to nearby towns that were founded or heavily influenced by African Americans. The response was bigger than anything he could have ever anticipated.
“I just wanted to elevate my brand, basically,” Jordan said. “Of course, because my page is centered around Black culture, I wanted to do something special for Black History Month. I thought this ‘Black Towns’ series was just going to last until Black History Month was over but it’s like when I touched the surface, I just kept digging and digging and people were like, ‘Why don’t you do this town? Why don’t you do that town?’”
From there, Visit Houston reached out to him for collaborations. The content would not only educate people on social media but it was also the catalyst for viewers to unite with family members they’ve never met in the comments section.
“Looking at the comments, some people were like, ‘Oh, this is my family. I see my family in these videos,’” Jordan said. “And then they started conversing in the comments like, ‘Oh, we’re cousins.’ So it became like a family reunion.”
In an interview, Jordan discussed a few of the many towns he’s researched with KPRC 2 Digital Content Producer Erica Ponder.
Freedmen’s Town is located in the Fourth Ward community and is one of Texas’ first Black settlements. When slaves were emancipated from slavery in Texas in 1865, several of them settled in Freedmen’s Town for a new beginning. It is home to the historic Gregory School, which is the first Black school in Texas and had several thriving establishments, including Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, where John Henry “Jack” Yates became the minister in 1868. Yates also founded Emancipation Park and fought for a cemetery to be built for Black people-- Olivewood Cemetery.
Yates, who is considered to be one of the most revered people in the city’s history, purchased property on Freedmen’s Town’s Andrews Street where, with the aid of his brother and brother-in-law, he built Black Houston’s first two-story house, according to the Heritage Society of Sam Houston Park’s website.
“Jack Yates, he was definitely a pioneer in Freedmen’s Town,” Jordan said.
During his research, Jordan learned that Freedmen’s Town was also home to a major Negro League Baseball team called the Eagles, who played in West End Park.
Frenchtown was a neighborhood of four square blocks located on the northern edge of Houston’s Fifth Ward that was organized in 1922. According to the Texas State Historical Association, it was home to Creoles of color from Louisiana that were of French, Spanish, and African descent.
Settlers in Frenchtown were descendants of a mostly free, mixed-race population that lived in colonial southwestern Louisiana in the eighteenth century and came to northeastern Houston for economic opportunities. Many people living in Frenchtown were employed by the Southern Pacific Railroad or worked along the Houston Ship Channel. Frenchtown is also known for birthing the popularity of Zydeco music in Houston, having festivals and concerts at venues such as “The Silver Slipper” and “Johnson’s.”
A suburb south of Crosby, Barrett Station, originally named Barrett Settlement, was established in 1875 and was founded by a former Creole slave from Louisiana named Harrison Barrett. While researching, Jordan learned that Harrison spent years gathering his family after the emancipation of slaves and purchased land east of the San Jacinto River in Harris County. The land started with seven families and had houses, a church, farms and a few mills. It became one of the largest land holdings in the county to be acquired by a former slave, according to the Barrett Station Civil League’s website. Harrison also gave some land in order for Shiloh Baptist Church, which also served as a school, to be built. In 1947, a high school and a post office branch were built, known as “Barrett Station,” the league said.
The area is approximately 12.66 square miles in size and had a population of 3,199 in 2010. It began growing rapidly after Harrison’s death in 1917. He was reportedly buried in Journey’s End Cemetery, which is located at his original homestead. Barrett Station became home to several settlers affected by the Great Mississippi Flood in 1927. The league says today, the town is home to nearly 5,200 people.
The Quarters/Mayfield Park in Sugar Land
Sugar Land is a site to many unfortunate and dark memories of the past. During slavery, it was known as the “Hell-Hole on the Brazos” due to the brutal conditions enslaved people experienced while working on sugar plantations. As a way to limit formerly enslaved people’s freedom, “black codes” were enforced. These codes could limit what jobs African Americans could hold and their ability to leave a job once they were hired. Some states restricted the kind of property Black people could own, according to National Geographic.
As a punishment for even minor crimes, prisoners were forced to work in sugar refineries and fields through convict leasing.
“Society placed black codes to limit our freedom, so say, for instance, if we looked at a white person wrong, we would go to jail for that,” Jordan said.
In 2018, human remains were first found at the Bullhead Camp Cemetery while Fort Bend County ISD’s James C. Reese Career and Technical Center was under construction. It was later discovered that 94 men and one woman who were part of a convict leasing program to build railroads and farm sugar cane in the 1800′s were also buried at the site. Many of the remains were analyzed through DNA to try to identify the bodies. In September 2020, FBISD released a 500-page report identifying who they believe are 72 of the “Sugar Land 95,” based on historical records.
The birthplace of Juneteenth, Galveston is the home of so much Black history in Texas. On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived on the island and went to the Ashton Villa to issue General Order No. 3, which, according to National Archives, states:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
The city is where the first African American high school and public library in Texas were founded, according to Visit Galveston. Texas’ first African American Baptist church, Avenue L Baptist Church, is also located in Galveston.
The City of Prairie View is located in Waller County along Highway 290. The town is known for being home to the state’s second-oldest public institution of higher education and the first state-supported college in Texas for African Americans — Prairie View A&M University. It is also where the Alta Vista Plantation was located. Owned by Confederate Army Colonel Jared E. and Helen Marr (Swearingen) Kirby, Alta Vista had about 400 slaves at one point, according to the TSHA. The plantation also served as headquarters for soldiers during the Civil War. When Jared died, he reportedly left a lot of debt behind, and the plantation was turned into a boarding school for girls called the Alta Vista Institute. When Helen moved the school to Austin in 1876, she sold the property to the state of Texas. That year, the building was turned into a school for free Black people called Alta Vista Agriculture & Mechanical College of Texas for Colored Youth, which would later turn into Prairie View A&M University after a few name changes.
The university was designated in a 1984 amendment to the Texas Constitution as an “institution of the first class,” according to the school’s website. The university’s enrollment reportedly exceeds 8,000 students, including more than 2,000 in graduate programs. It is also known for its prestigious nursing, education, architecture and engineering programs.
To see more episodes of “Forgotten Black Towns of Houston,” click here.