The Forward Times has placed a continued focus on honoring individuals and families through our “Celebration of Generations” because none of us have gotten where we are today without the personal sacrifices of the generations that have come before us, especially right here in Houston.
In this Juneteenth Special Edition, we will highlight four African American community and civic leaders, whose life stories can only be told through their personal legacy and sacrifice.
Today, the Forward Times honors them, not just because they came together to collectively purchase Emancipation Park over 150 years ago, but because of the many other contributions they made to better the quality of life of African Americans.
On June 19, 1865, over 3.5 million people of African descent in the racist South received unexpected news from Major General Gordon Granger that they were no longer enslaved but had legally been set free by the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation—a presidential proclamation and executive order issued during the Civil War by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863—over two years later.
As a result of this news, many of these “newly-freed” people of African descent moved to various places, including Houston, Texas.
Several of these freedmen moved to Houston and ended up leading a major effort to raise money towards the purchase of a piece of land where African Americans continue to celebrate June 19th—referred to as Juneteenth—to this day, for the purposes of commemorating the day they received news of their newfound freedom from slavery.
In 1872, four of those freedmen, who matriculated to Houston—Reverend John Henry “Jack” Yates, Reverend David Elias Dibble, Richard Allen, and Richard Brock—came together to purchase ten acres of land at the corner of Dowling Avenue (renamed Emancipation Avenue) and Elgin. Those four freedmen purchased the land collectively for $800 (believed to be approximately $18,000 when considering inflation) and eventually named it Emancipation Park.
Fast forward 150 years later, and Emancipation Park is recognized as the oldest park site in the City of Houston. With cultivated land and new facilities on site, it is still being centered by the spirit of those four African American men who stepped up to purchase these hallowed grounds.
Emancipation Park’s master plan now includes a state-of-the-art community and aquatics center; a new recreation center; off-site parking; multi-purpose space to accommodate gatherings of up to 3,000; enhancements to the outdoor experiences: including picnic areas, a baseball field, tennis court, basketball court, play area and event, exhibition, and performance space. Emancipation Park has plans to serve as ground-zero for a variety of programs and activities
serving all ages in the areas of education, health & wellness, history & culture, economic empowerment, environmental stewardship, and families & communities, and will host seminars, town hall meetings, conferences, concerts, plays, exhibitions, and festivals for all to come and enjoy.
If you are in the Greater Houston area, the Emancipation Park Conservancy will be hosting a summer celebration to commemorate the 150th anniversary and to honor Juneteenth, which became the nation’s newest federal holiday last year.
On Friday, June 17th, there will be an Emancipation Park Rededication Celebration from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a Rededication Ceremony taking place at 11 a.m. The 150th Anniversary Juneteenth Celebration will culminate with a spectacular two-day festival on Saturday, June 18th and Sunday, June 19th at Emancipation Park. The celebration will open with a ceremony acknowledging Juneteenth and Emancipation Park’s history. Across both days, attendees will have access to local vendors, community resources, interactive kid zones and much more. Local artists Keeshea Pratt Band featuring Jewel Brown, James Boogaloo Bolden, and Soultre featuring Kollett will perform in the afternoon. Evenings will conclude with musical performances by dynamic gospel and R&B artists, including The Isley Brothers, Kool & The Gang, Sheila E., Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Earnest Pugh, Pastor Mike Jr., Zacardi Cortez, and Monica Lisa Stevenson. Comedian Billy Sorrells, KTSU’s Donna Franklin and The Vibe’s Michele McKnight will host the festivities. The Emancipation Park 150th Anniversary Juneteenth celebration is free and open to the public, and tickets are required for entry, but due to overwhelming demand, tickets are no longer available. For more information on the Emancipation Park Conservancy, please visit www.epconservancy.org. On Monday, June 19th, there will be a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Emancipation Avenue at 8:30 am, and a Juneteenth Emancipation Celebration from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
All events will take place at Emancipation Park, located at 3018 Emancipation Avenue—on the corner of Elgin and Emancipation Avenue (formerly Dowling Avenue).
Also, the Missouri City Juneteenth Celebration Foundation will be hosting its 20th year of celebrating Juneteenth in Missouri City, Texas, which includes the Juneteenth Community Service Gala, Annual Family Night Out, 20th Annual One Mile of Smiles Parade, and the 20th Annual Concert in the Park. For more information on the Missouri City Juneteenth Celebration Foundation, please visit www.missouricityjuneteenthcelebration.com.
So, as Houston celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Emancipation Park—purchased by four African American men as a place to organize, gather the community, and celebrate Juneteenth with their families for generations to come—we encourage everyone to participate in Juneteenth celebrations, wherever you may reside—in the Greater Houston area or across the country.
Join the Forward Times as we continue to have a “Celebration of Generations”, commemorating Juneteenth and celebrating the 150th anniversary of Emancipation Park in our annual Juneteenth Special Edition.
John Henry “Jack” Yates, who was born a slave and learned to read, write and acquire the skills of carpentry, moved his family to Houston and ended up leading a major effort to raise money towards the purchase of a piece of land where African Americans could celebrate Juneteenth, and their newfound freedom from slavery for years to come.
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”
Many of these “newly-freed” and former African American slaves began to wonder what the relationship between them and their former slave masters would now look like.
One of those freedmen, John Henry “Jack” Yates, who was born a slave and learned to read, write and acquire the skills of carpentry, moved his family to Houston and ended up leading a major effort to raise money towards the purchase of a piece of land where African Americans could celebrate Juneteenth, and their newfound freedom from slavery for years to come.
In 1872, Yates and other Freedmen’s town residents – Elias Dibble, Richard Allen and Richard Brock – purchased the 10 acres of land at the corner of Dowling Avenue (now Emancipation Avenue) and Elgin, and named it Emancipation Park, in honor of their newly received freedom, and as a place to organize and celebrate Juneteenth with their families for generations to come.
Fast forward 145 years later, Emancipation Park is recognized as the oldest park site in the City of Houston, and we see that the land that these former slaves purchased still remains, and although the land has been cultivated and a new facility has been erected, the spirit of those individuals who originally purchased that 10-acre parcel of land in 1872 for $800 will be celebrated this upcoming Saturday, June 17th and Monday, June 19th on those hallowed grounds.
“This rededication ceremony has been a long time coming and we can’t be more thrilled to finally be making this historic park and green space destination available for all to enjoy,” said Emancipation Park Conservancy Chairman of the Board Ramon Manning. “As the stewards of this community treasure, we, the Conservancy appreciate the commitment of our funding partners and the patience the community has demonstrated with this worthwhile initiative. Our unwavering desire is for Emancipation Park to serve as a vibrant community showpiece equipped with competent staffing and robust programming activities for the many constituencies we serve.”
On Saturday, June 17th, there will be an Emancipation Park Rededication Celebration from 10 am to 5 pm, with a Rededication Ceremony taking place at 11 am. On Monday, June 19th, there will be a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Emancipation Avenue at 8:30 am, and a Juneteenth Emancipation Celebration from 10 am to 5 pm, all taking place at Emancipation Park, located at 3018 Emancipation Avenue – at the corner of Elgin and Emancipation Avenue (formerly Dowling Avenue).
It’s not Midtown or the Museum District…it’s still Third Ward; and residents of Houston’s Third Ward have something to be excited about, as they have a new crown “jewel” that they, along with the former slaves who paid the price to acquire the land where it now sits, can be proud of.
Houston’s Emancipation Park Conservancy is hosting a summer celebration to commemorate its sesquicentennial anniversary and honor Juneteenth, the nation’s newest federal holiday. The holiday recognizes June 19, 1865, the date that enslaved people across Texas learned that they were free, two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Activities kicked off with a series of “Emancipation Conversations” covering a variety of topics that affect African Americans in Houston and beyond. Special guests — ranging from Dr. Rod Paige, former US Secretary of Education, and PJ Floyd, brother of the late George Floyd — address the histories of Juneteenth and Memorial Day, the significance of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in education, the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color and the role of arts in historical and cultural preservation, among other topics. Visit Emancipation Park Conservancy’s Juneteenth page for the conversation schedule.
Additionally, the event will culminate with a spectacular two-day festival on June 18 and 19 at Emancipation Park. The celebration opens with a ceremony acknowledging Juneteenth and Emancipation Park’s history. Across both days, attendees will have access to local vendors, community resources, interactive kid zones and much more. Local artists Keeshea Pratt Band featuring Jewel Brown, James Boogaloo Bolden and Soultre featuring Kollett will perform in the afternoon. Evenings will conclude with musical performances by dynamic gospel and R&B artists, including The Isley Brothers, Kool & The Gang, Sheila E., Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Earnest Pugh, Pastor Mike Jr., Zacardi Cortez and Monica Lisa Stevenson. Comedian Billy Sorrells, KTSU’s Donna Franklin and The Vibe’s Michele McKnight will host the festivities.
“This year’s Juneteenth celebration coincides with Emancipation Park’s 150th. This special anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on our history, to consider the strides we have made in moving our communities forward and to acknowledge the work still ahead of us,” said Ramon Manning, board chairman, Emancipation Park Conservancy. “The hopes and legacy of our founders — celebrated that very first Juneteenth in the park — lives on through our efforts to mold it into a place for learning, recreation and jubilation.”
“Beginning with formerly enslaved people, Houstonians have gathered at Emancipation Park since 1872. It holds a special place in our hearts and is significant in our city’s history. The park reflects the beauty, strength and resilience of its founders,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the event’s honorary chairman. “The Emancipation Park 150th Juneteenth celebration will be a grand event to honor the past, embrace the present and look to the future.”
Emancipation Park was founded in 1872, when formerly enslaved African Americans and their communities came together to purchase ten acres of land in what is now Houston’s Third Ward. Their goal was to carve out a place for African Americans to relish in the freedom gained just seven years prior. Today, 150-years later, Emancipation Park remains Houston’s, and the state of Texas’, oldest public green space, and it continues to be a vibrant space for all Houstonians to gather in remembrance of this history.
“Emancipation Park is a very special place, and it is wonderful that, to this day, the park is still being used as the founders intended,” said Rich Kinder, chairman, Kinder Foundation, which is the event’s presenting sponsor. “We look forward to celebrating the 150th birthday of the park during this Juneteenth event.”
The Emancipation Park 150th Juneteenth celebration is free and open to the public. Tickets are required for entry, but due to overwhelming demand, tickets are no longer available. For more information, visit epconservancy.org.