By Roxanne Quezada Chartouni
It was 1987 and my new best friend/sister, Cecelia Cook Drew asked me if I wanted to take a run with her and her daughter Jaz from Los Angeles to Houston. I was thrilled and very grateful for C’s generous invitation. Immediately we began planning our visit. We came up with the concept of documenting the Fourth Ward in honor of Juneteenth as our purpose for collaborating on a body of work together. More than anything I wanted to convey the warmth and familiarity we had experienced immediately upon entering the neighborhood that was Fourth Ward. It felt like we had stepped back in time, and Fourth Ward was the town that time forgot.
I really could not believe nor communicate what I was feeling that day but it moved me deeply; I consider it a blessing and my best work to this day. After what seemed a short drive, I could see that Houston skyline. We drove into Fourth Ward eager and focused on the job at hand. Instinctively we chose to walk down the beautiful red brick path that was Andrews Street. Denizens of Fourth Ward. Former slaves and their descendants had handcrafted the bricks, laying them in patterns that reflect West African traditions, and sometimes-secret messages for the community.
Mrs. Mayola Baldwin instantly graced the Leica camera with her beauty. Her image was the very first frame I documented in Fourth Ward. I nervously asked if I could take a photo of her. To my surprise, she replied “yes” but would I please take it with her washing machine, as she was very proud to have purchased it with her own savings. I thanked her for her time and felt very good about what the day had in store for us. I knew this was my one and only chance to tell their story.
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Check out some of our earlier articles on Houston’s Fourth Ward:
Two Worlds A Mile Apart, A Brief History of Houston’s Fourth Ward by Trilla Pando.
Freeman’s Town, A Lesson in the Failure of Historic Preservation by Tomiko Meeks
Building on Intellectual Foundations: Creating the African American Library at the Gregory School by Ela Miljakovic
Learn more about the African american Library at the Gregory School here.