Mayor Sylvester Turner and Houston City Council voted to pass the Heritage District ordinance and named Freedmen’s Town as Houston’s first heritage district. The announcement coincides with the city’s observance of Juneteenth.
Freedmen’s Town was selected as the inaugural heritage district due to its rich history and the initiative and support shown by the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy. As the name implies, Freedmen’s Town, often referred to as the “Harlem of the South,” was established in 1865 by newly emancipated African Americans who purchased land and created a vibrant community in Houston’s Fourth Ward.
READ: Premiere of play about the history of Freedmen’s Town: https://defendernetwork.com/celebrate/faces-houston-events/in-all-thy-getting-play-reception/
“I can think of no better community to designate as Houston’s first heritage district than Freedmen’s Town, and no better day than Juneteenth to share the good news,” said Mayor Turner. “We thank the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy for spearheading the efforts that have led to the development of heritage districts, which will benefit communities across the city.”
Heritage districts are intended to foster civic and cultural pride by protecting character-defining elements within neighborhoods, highlighting the significant achievements and contributions of the community and promoting neighborhood stability.
“We are so excited to introduce this new designation that will open doors for community-led preservation and beautification efforts in the public right-of-way,” said Planning and Development Department Director Margaret Wallace Brown.
Organizations that are approved for a heritage district will be permitted to protect, restore or install significant elements within the district such as brick paved streets, curbs, driveways, sidewalks and walkways, signage and markers, public art, vegetation, and trees in the city’s public right-of-way. The designation does not provide city funding and does not apply to private property.
READ: Learn about Freedmen’s Town’s historic bricks: https://defendernetwork.com/news/local-state/disturbed-freedmens-town-bricks-replaced/
Enhancements to public rights-of-way within the Freedmen’s Town Heritage District are subject to City approval and review by the City’s Planning and Development Department Historic Preservation Officer. The Conservancy will be solely responsible for funding such improvements.
The Conservancy’s mission is to preserve the historic legacy of Freedmen’s Town, inspiring all through education and awareness of its unique story.
“This heritage district designation will infuse desperately needed energy and assist the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy to raise capital to protect, preserve, educate, and engage Houston and the world in ‘Telling the Story of Freedom’ in Freedmen’s Town” said Eileen Lawal, Freedmen’s Town Conservancy Board President.
About Freedmen’s Town:
Freedmen’s Town is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a historic community jewel where you can walk along streets paved with bricks hand-made and laid by the descendants of the formerly enslaved community founders. You can visit several locations that have been designated by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, as a “Site of memory associated with the Slave Route Project” including the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum, Bethel Park, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, and the African American Library at the Gregory School.
View heritage district application resources on the Houston Office of Preservation website.