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Thursday: 12 PM - 8:00 PM
Friday - Saturday: 10 AM - 5 PM
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We encourage our community members to take advantage of our archiving services. Walk-ins are welcome on Wednesdays to discuss potential archival donations. You may also make an appointment since there will be times when our archivist might not be available.
About the Library
Our doors officially opened on Saturday, November 14, 2009. The library is housed in the Edgar M. Gregory School, which served as the first public school for African Americans in Houston. As the first library of its kind in Houston and one of the few African American libraries in the country, the Gregory School serves as a resource to preserve, promote, and celebrate the rich history and culture of African Americans in Houston, the surrounding region, and the African Diaspora.
This historic building was reconditioned to serve as a repository for use by historians, researchers, and the general public. The African American Library at the Gregory School is the newest of three special collections operated by the Houston Public library. The library provides an incomparable variety of resources including reference books, rare books, archival materials, exhibits, artifacts, oral histories, and innovative programs. With community participation, this facility is a one-of-a-kind research and cultural center, providing valuable information to the Houston community and the entire world.
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See a special message from Dr. Rhea Lawson, Director of HPL
History of the Gregory School & Freedmen's Town
Built in 1926, the Gregory School stands as a monument honoring the memories and sacrifices of past generations of African Americans that thrived during a period in history where segregation, civil rights oppression, and educational disadvantages were the norm. The two-story, 20,000-square-foot former elementary school was named after Edgar M. Gregory, a Union officer and Assistant Commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau for the Texas area. It is located in Freedmen’s Town, a historic district in Houston’s Fourth Ward. This area is considered to be the city’s oldest established African American community.
After the Civil War, approximately 1,000 formerly enslaved African Americans developed this small community. Like other African American communities that existed at the time, Freedmen's Town was independent of nearby white American communities that did not accept them. They selected the area because land was cheap, and because white Americans did not want to live along the swampy southern edge of Buffalo Bayou, which was susceptible to flooding.
Freedmen’s Town grew rapidly. Many African Americans became self-sustaining businesspeople. Their establishments flourished, and they provided whatever the community needed to thrive. These Houstonians created their own utilities and services, and even paved the streets with bricks they made themselves.
Churches were vital to Freedmen's Town. During Reconstruction, the Freedmen’s Bureau and the American Mission Association opened schools within local churches to provide adults with literacy and basic math skills.
By 1870 the Texas Legislature created public schools for African Americans, and the Gregory Institute was opened. By 1872, after the Freedmen's Bureau schools closed, most students and teachers moved to the Gregory Institute. In 1876 the Gregory Institute became a part of the Houston Independent School District. It was one of the first official public education institutions for African-American children in Texas.
The Gregory Institute operated out of wooden buildings until the current brick structure opened in 1926. It served the community until 1984.
The State Historical Commission designated the Gregory School building as a State Archaeological Landmark. This designation is the highest historical landmark classification that can be placed on any building.
1841 - The "Wards" are established.
1863 - Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln.
1865 - News of Emancipation freedom from slavery arrives in Texas, and Freedpeople from plantations along the Brazos River migrate to Houston.
1865 - Freedpeople settle and own property along the west side of Downtown Houston in an area later known as Freedmen’s Town.
1870 - The Freedmen’s Bureau persuades the Texas Legislature to create public schools for African Americans. The Gregory Institute opens in Fourth Ward, Freedmen’s Town.
1872 - The Freedmen’s Bureau schools close and teachers and students transfer to the Gregory Institute.
1875 - A committee established by the Mayor recommends a high school for each race; one white and one black for each district.
1876 - The City of Houston assumes control of all public schools. The Gregory Institute becomes part of the public school system.
1906 - The "Ward" system is officially discontinued.
1915 - Over 400 Black establishments or businesses exist in Freedmen’s Town.
1920 - Freedmen’s Town represents one-third of Houston’s population, becoming an area similar to that of Harlem, New York.
The African American Library at the Gregory School has partnered with Rice University to launch its Scholar-in-Residence Program. The program operates in partnership with Rice University's CERCL (Center for Engaged Learning and Collaborative Learning), now a part of Rice's Kinder Institute for Urban Research. CERCL is a curricular and research initiative that uses innovative research, engaged pedagogy and other approaches to promote creative models of leadership benefiting new generations of leaders.
Visit here to learn more about the program.