Bill to create an African American National Historic Trail in Houston, Galveston awaits Presidential approval

Emancipation Park in Houston’s Third Ward is one of the sites on the Emancipation National Historic Trail. Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media

A bill to study if an Emancipation trail in Southeast Texas should receive a national designation is now headed to President Trump’s desk for his signature.

The 51-mile trail would show the migration route used by newly freed slaves and other people of African descent in the 19th century.

It’s based on the research of Naomi Mitchell Carrier, the founder of the Texas Center for African American Living History in Houston.

“I was able to outline some 40 or more sites that have historical markers between Reedy Chapel in Galveston and Freedmen’s Town in Houston,” said Mitchell Carrier. “That is the trail.”

The route would include Independence Heights, Freedmen’s Town and Emancipation Park in Houston. It would also include the site of Galveston’s Osterman building, where a Union Army General told the people of Galveston that all slaves were free.

“When Major General [Gordon] Granger arrived in Galveston with news that all slaves were free, he changed countless lives as well as the course of history,” Sen. John Cornyn said in a statement. “By commemorating the trek so many families took to spread the great news, we can honor those families and celebrate the freedom we cherish as Texans and Americans.”

The Texas Republican and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, sponsored the legislation calling for the study of the trail. It passed the U.S. Senate Monday, and was previously approved by the House in May.

“The historic passage of the Emancipation National Historic Trail Study Act by the Senate will result in only the second trail in the United States that chronicles the experience of African Americans,” Jackson Lee said in a press release.

According to Jackson Lee, there’s only one other trail of its kind that focuses on African Americans and their experiences: the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail.

That heritage tourism attraction generates millions of dollars, which Jackson Lee said could also happen in Texas.

“In addition to preserving this important heritage, the Emancipation National Historic Trail is estimated to generate millions of dollars and hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs for the Texas region’s economy,” she said.

Overall, Mitchell Carrier said creating the trail is a must for Texas and its African American history.

“And, this history has either been wiped from memory or prohibited from memory,” she said. “The National Historical Emancipation Trail is about a restoration, resurrection, and ascension of historical memory.”

Houston Public Media