Building Bridges

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Concept for background graphic provided by Donna Hill-Wiley

All materials Copyright © 2005 by Yates Community Archaeological Project | Site Support by Rascal Ranger Productions

Freedman's Town, Houston, Texas

Bridges to the Past

The Reverend Ned Pullum House
1319 Andrews

The Rutherford B. H. Yates House
1314 Andrews

     Built on ground reclaimed from the flood-prone area south of the Buffalo Bayou, the site which was to become Freedmen's Town was included in the area designated as the Fourth Ward in 1839, only a few years after the founding of the city by the Allen Brothers. After 1865, the area came to be known as Freedmen's Town when freed African-Americans, leaving behind the oppression of the plantations where they had been enslaved and forced to labor for the benefit of others, were drawn to the opportunities for community and employment offered in Houston. Many previously enslaved men, women and families made their home in the thriving, burgeoning community. They filled and raised the swampy land, built their own services and utilities, paved their streets with bricks they made, and built houses, businesses, a hospital, schools and community centers. Churches and benevolent societies formed a strong core of faith and values, from which Houston's African American community grew. By the end of the 19th century, Freedmen's Town was prosperous and successful; a vibrant center of black Houston.
      At the time of Freedmen's Town's National Historic Register designation in 1986, over 530 of the historic structures built by its founders still existed. Now, because of the ravages of insensitive property development and gentrification, less than 30 of those structures remain.

     But is the history of Freedmen's Town lost? No.

      The history of this community remains, even though many of the structures are lost. It is now being used to empower and inform contemporary people about the creativity and energy of these founding citizens of Houston. The Yates Community Archaeology Program (YCAP), sponsored by the Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum*, is part of this. YCAP is reclaiming Freedmen's Town history with:
• Memories – Oral histories and oral tradition from the people whose ancestors built the community. Freedmen's Town is one of the only communities in the United States still in existence with known residents who are descended from the original founders.

• Objects – The things that people left behind. Historical archaeological research is finding fresh understanding of the past in the artifacts of everyday human life, buried for decades under the ground.

• Documents – photographs, wills, land records, and other recorded evidence of people's lives. Family stories come alive through the faces and actions of the ancestors.

• Education and outreach – partnerships with schools, universities, churches and other organizations to create opportunities for enriched understanding.

      And, yes, houses are being reclaimed too…such as the Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum*, which has been restored and is now being used as a place to study about and interpret the history of Freedmen's Town.

* The Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum, Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) incorporated in the State of Texas, December 26, 1996. The Rutherford B. H. Yates House, located at 1314 Andrews Street, Houston, Texas, 77019, is a Contributing Property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is in the National Historic District of Freedmen's Town. Freedmen's Town is the only remaining post-Civil War, freed-slave community of its kind in the United States.