Freedman’s Town: A Lesson in the Failure of Historic Preservation

By Tomiko Meeks

The struggle to preserve the history of Freedmen’s Town in Houston, Texas is entangled in the questionable systems of urban renewal and development, which inevitably work to displace many of the poor African American residents from the community. For nearly forty years African Americans have been systematically forced from their neighborhood to make room for new construction as more people move back into the city. Freedmen’s Town, because of its recognition as a “Historic District,” on the National Register of Historic places, should be immune to such actions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Political figures, community groups, developers, the legal system, and preservation projects have all failed on varying levels to protect the historical value and integrity of Freedmen’s Town.

Freedman’s Town has a long and distinctive history, worthy of preservation, that reaches back into late nineteenth century Houston. With the Civil War over and with the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation, freed slaves came to Houston and took decisive measures to assert and protect their freedom. Although other ethnic groups lived in Freedmen’s town, it holds prominence as the first independent Black neighborhood in Houston.

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