- Community Center:
- H.P.A.R.D. Permits Office:
- H.P.A.R.D. Information:
Houston Service Helpline:
Houston, TX 77004
311 or 713.837.0311
Located near downtown at the intersection of Dowling and Elgin Streets, Emancipation Park stands in honor of Houstonians who took their history and the course of the future into their own hands.
The Founding of Emancipation Park
The end of the Civil War resulted in a dramatic reorganization of society throughout the former Confederacy, including new freedom for the slaves. President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation and published it on January 1, 1863, but it did not reach Texas for two years. It wasn’t until General Granger proclaimed it in Galveston on June 19, 1865 that Texas got the news.
The anniversary of the day took on festive traditions and a new name: it came to be known as Juneteenth. Over the next few years, African-American populations across Texas collected money to buy property dedicated to Juneteenth celebrations. In Houston, the effort was led by the Reverend Jack Yates, a Baptist minister and former slave. Rev. Yates is remembered today through the high school with his name and his home, restored as part of the collection of historical buildings in Sam Houston Park. His church, Antioch Baptist, and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church formed the Colored People’s Festival and Emancipation Park Association. In 1872, they pooled $800 to put down on ten acres of open land as home for their Juneteenth celebration. In honor of their freedom, they named it Emancipation Park.
The Twentieth Century at Emancipation Park
In 1918, it had been acquired by the City of Houston. Racial segregation was the law of the land, and Emancipation Park was the only municipal park African-Americans could use at that time. In 1939, Miss Annette Finnigan, a veteran of the push for women’s suffrage, donated property to the city for a second one, which became Finnigan Park.
Also in 1939, the WPA undertook the construction of a community center building in Emancipation Park. Designed by William Ward Watkin, the fine new facility was dedicated at the Juneteenth Celebration on June 18-19, 1939 and now provides greater recreational and educational programs for the users of the park. In 1976, the Association for Study of Afro-American Life and History donated a plaque dedicated to Rev. Yates, which is displayed at the entrance to the community center.
And On Into the Twenty-first…
Over the years, many improvements have taken place in the park, resulting in a fine recreational facility. In 1998, the Parks to Standards program resulted in extensive renovations. Today, Emancipation Park boasts tennis courts, a basketball court, a large combined softball/football field, a picnic area, exercise equipment, a playground, a huge swimming pool, and, of course, the community center. It is surrounded by the busy city, and is in constant use. Many families celebrate Juneteenth there every year, as well as birthdays, family reunions, and picnics together in the great outdoors.
Set aside to commemorate events of the Nineteenth Century, Emancipation Park continues to serve its neighborhood today. It stands as a monument to the pride and hope that the founding members of the Colored People’s Festival and Emancipation Park Association felt as they stood with their backs to slavery and their faces turned to the future.
Emancipation Park Receives State Historic Designation
The Friends of Emancipation Park unveiled the parks Official State of Texas Historic Marker as part of today's Juneteenth Celebrations. (photo gallery)