Just west of downtown is the city’s oldest black community. The Fourth Ward, or Freedmen’s Town, the name given by the freed slaves who settled here, struggles to maintain its identity and heritage.
Developed in the 1800s after emancipation, the only planned development for African Americans in Houston struggles against development and gentrification. A prime location for new construction, this protected area continues to have rich historical significance. The hand-laid brick streets, the first steel-frame house, Houston’s first cemetery and the original trolley tracks all hint at Freedmen’s Town’s rich historical past.
Maintaining and preserving this area is a fight lead by the Freedmen’s Town Association. Sadly, a sign of decline in the area is the 1980 closing of the Gregory School, the first school for African Americans in Houston. Another social service lost, the city has not taken advantage of the 20-year lease granted by HISD to house a meals program.
The Bethel Baptist Church has drawn a lot of media attention lately. When H Texas visited in late January, we were told that worship would commence as soon as they raised money for a new roof. The next week, every local news station covered the major fire that destroyed the church, the fire department’s attack and Freedmen’s Town’s restraining order.
Rumors circulated that the building may have been a victim to developers’ greed for the prime real estate, yet someone else unconnected to the developers has been arrested for the crime.
For more information, call Freedmen’s Town Association Inc. at (713) 739-9414.