HOUSTON -- Emancipation Park is a park with 140 years of stories.

Jackie Bostic remembers coming here as a child.

I just remember what a great time we had, and how everybody prepared to come and had their picnic baskets, Bostic said.

The first picnics were held in 1872 when Emancipation Park was founded by former slaves.

Reverend Jack Yates helped buy the land as a place to celebrate Juneteenth, commemorating the day when slaves in Texas learned they had been set free.

The park was donated to the City of Houston in 1916, and it was the only park open to African Americans in Houston until at least 1940.

It was the only park I could come to as a child, Bostic said.

And for decades the park has been an historical footnote, but it's about to become a whole lot more.

President of Friends of Emancipation Park Dorris Ellis has an ambitious $30 million plan to transform it.

A new fine arts center will go in the parking lot, and there will be an amphitheatre to stage talent shows, musical acts, even Broadway shows.

In the 19th century it was a place to celebrate emancipation, and in the 21st century the new and improved park may help transform a neighborhood that has seen better days.

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