After the Civil War, thousands of freed slaves purchased land and built homes along the Buffalo Bayou, earning the name for the area “Freedmen’s Town.” Over a period of sixty years the town thrived, with churches, schools, stores, theaters and jazz spots lining the cobblestone roadways, earning the Freedmen’s Town the nickname “Little Harlem” by the 1920s. People in the community were happy, working and taking care of their families. But, the great fortune didn’t last long.
Due to the Great Depression many residents of Freedmen’s Town lost their homes. People who had lived in the Houston neighborhood were forced to move to other Houston neighborhoods, and others stayed in the town only to watch it deteriorate. There was much construction in the late 1930’s against the wishes of Blacks here, which continued to severe this historical neighborhood, divided nearly at midpoint by the addition of the Gulf Freeway. In the early 1940’s, more Black land and business owners were displaced to make way for San Felipe Courts, the largest public housing project in Houston.
“To appease possible civil unrest, Blacks were assured by political movers and shakers that they would be allowed to partake in the new housing once construction was complete. However, in order to justify funding during World War II, the project was designated as part of the war effort to serve military families. A brick wall was erected instead to separate the Courts from the remaining Freedmen’s Town. Only whites were allowed to be housed in the Courts.” Black people were not allowed to move in the area until the late 1960s. In 1984, Freedmen’s became a historic district.