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Houston's historic Freedmen's Town designated as city's first heritage district

The Fourth Ward neighborhood was established in 1865 by newly emancipated African Americans who bought land and created a vibrant community.

HOUSTON — Parts of Freedmen’s Town remain a touchstone to the past in the shadow of Houston modern downtown skyline.

Historical sites already dot the neighborhood.

And now a new designation will help further preserve, maintain and highlight its history.

"What a way to celebrate Juneteenth," said Zion Escobar, executive director of the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy.  "Once people received news of their emancipation, they migrated from Brazoria County and Galveston and all sorts of places south of here. Migrated up towards Freedmen’s Town to live their liberated and free lives, to own their freedom.”

RELATED: Juneteenth: 1865-2021, tonight at 8 p.m. on KHOU 11

RELATED: Freedmen's Town was a 'black oasis' for freed slaves following the Emancipation Proclamation

The conservancy is among the groups that pushed the city council to pass an ordinance making Freedmen’s Town its very first “heritage district.”

Unlike historic designations that help protect buildings or other structures from demolition, this allows for the protection, restoration or installation of things in the city’s public right-of-way.

Those include walkways, signage, markers and public art.

"And we have other efforts going on to secure the future for private properties and homeowners who see that as something that they desire,” said Escobar.

Repairing and restoring the area’s landmark brick streets will be the focus of the conservancy’s first fundraiser.

They're perhaps the most tangible connection to the history of Freedmen’s Town and were laid by hand by descendants of its founders when the city refused to pave the streets.

"This is a watershed moment in Houston to finally start acknowledging its history and its heritage,” said Escobar.

The Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum is the steward of multiple properties in Freedmen’s Town and issued this statement:

The Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum applauds the foresight of the City of Houston for designating Freedmen’s Town as its first official Heritage District. The Yates Museum is the steward of six historic homes, including some of the most significant and recognizable ones that were built by former community leaders; it also holds five empty lots, for a total of 11 archaeologically significant sites. With so much of Freedmen’s Town’s legacy having fallen victim to the bulldozer, preserving those tangible reminders that do remain has become more important than ever.