Freedmen's Town Threatened

Anne Sparks, Editor, Preservation Texas Reporter
P.O. Box 12832, Austin, TX 78711, tel/fax: 512/251-6404

Houston - Freedmen's Town, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is an 80-block area west of downtown Houston, including a 37-acre public housing complex built over historical gravesites in the center of this Freed Slave settlement. Characteristic of African villages, the neighborhood consists of wooden "shotgun" houses, historical churches, and hand-laid brick roads, now being covered or ripped up by developers.

Freedmen's Town was established after news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas in 1865 -- by Freed Slaves who migrated from plantations to create this settlement, which is now the last of its kind left intact in the United States.

The black founders, allowed to live only in an uninhabitable area near the bayou, filled in the swamplands by pouring dirt, bucket by bucket, until there was firm land to build their houses. The area became a thriving center of jazz, arts, and business, hailed by many as the "Harlem of the South."

Freedmen's Town has a long political history. It was the location of the "Camp Logan Mutiny" in 1917 -- the biggest race conflict in Houston's history, which broke out among military enlistees. In 1937-39, central land was seized by eminent domain from local black families, eight of whom appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, but lost.

Because of World War II, the public housing complex was designated as part of the war effort to serve military families in order to justify its construction at a time of rationing and government cutbacks. The removal of cemetery remains and the exclusion of black residents from this all-white complex was publicly protested by the local community. Not until after the 1964 Civil Rights Act were blacks allowed to occupy Allen Parkway Village (APV), leading to the white flight from the public housing and occupation by minority tenants.

Through the 1980s and the 1990s, misallocation of public funds and tenant abuse spurred a movement for tenants rights. In 1998, during construction of underground infrastructure, 4 human remains were found below APV. Further digging led to the discovery of more than 400 remains among 430 burial shafts, none of which had been detected by archeological surveys as required beforehand. This outraged the African American community, as well as the decision to remove the remaining bodies to continue the project, again despite highly publicized protests and petitions by the community.

Once APV was demolished, other developers came in to contract with the city, leading to the eviction of lifelong elderly residents, demolition of more than 300 historical homes (half of the district) and further protests.

Currently, developers are under investigation by the Texas Attorney General's office and under audit.

"Freedmen's Town is in constant danger," said Emily Nghiem of the Harris County Historical Commission. "Its destruction is nonstop. What is going on is not revitalization, as promised. It's redevelopment. There is a difference. Decisions on development are continually made among churches and organizations whose leaders do not live in the area."

Freedmen's Town has been nominated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. for more information about Freedmen's Town and to learn how you can help, take a look at the website:, or call Emily Nghiem at (713)465-0522.

Preservation Texas Reporter is published quarterly by Preservation Texas, Inc.: P.O. Box 12832, Austin, TX 78711, tel: 512/472-0102, fax: 512/472-0740, e-mail:

Contributors to this article include:
  • Lenwood E. Johnson, Resident Council for Allen Parkway Village
    e-mail:, tel: 713/228-2109 fax: 229-8580
    websites: History of APV | Allen Parkway Community Campus | APV Resolution

  • Glady M. House, Freedmen's Town Association and CDC
    e-mail:, tel: 713/739-9414
    websites: FTA Press Release | Brief History of Freedmen's Town

  • Darrell J. Patterson, Fourth Ward Health and Educational Center for Youth
    e-mail:, tel/fax: 713/521-1315
    websites: Fourth Ward Center for Youth / Youth Master Plan Chart and Resolution

  • Dr. Amilcar Shabazz, African American Studies, University of Alabama
    e-mail:, tel: 205/348-6339

  • Fred McGhee, African Diasporo Program, University of Texas at Austin
    e-mail:, tel: 512/912-0906
    website: / article: Preservation Jeopardized

  • Cicely Wynne, Office of Councilwoman Annise Parker, At Large Position 1
    tel: 713/247-2014, fax: 713/247-3519

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