Gem Hale, The Protest Before the Protest, 2023, digital photograph. Gem Hale, Brick Maker, 2023, digital photograph artworks courtesy the artist. Photography by Sean Fleming, courtesy Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
 
June 8 - October 19, 2024
 

Located in Houston’s Fourth Ward, Freedmen’s Town is as deeply captivating as it is distinctly contested. The first settlement of freed Black people in the city, at one time the boundaries of Freedmen’s Town extended from the banks of Buffalo Bayou bordering downtown to present day Montrose.

This origin place once consisted of 500 historic structures within a vast swath of city streets. These structures were aggressively and systemically reduced, building by building, street by street, resulting in the much-diminished footprint of present-day Freedmen’s Town. When artists are concerned with place, reality finds poetic form, to uplift communities such as Freedmen’s Town/Fourth Ward.

Working against the ongoing erasure of Freedmen’s Town, the artists within this exhibition lend their vision to frame the memory of what was and stretch the boundary of what lies ahead. THIS WAY: A Houston Group Show articulates themes of time and memory that offer their own evocation as collaboration to stir thought, dialogue, and perception, initiating an environment for rebirth and restoration. The exhibition offers not only a connection to a place but also to the legacy of others connected to its origin: historically and at present, Freedmen’s Town.

In this moment in Houston’s history, 12 Black artists were invited to shape the unseen at a critical time in which Freedmen’s Town’s sacred archives and assets must be protected. These artists were invited to examine innovative ways to participate in the storytelling of Black legacy and heritage in Houston Freedmen’s Town. Navigating what Freedmen's Town might have become had systemic forces not smothered the community's abundance means that the artwork in this exhibition is part archival and part first responder. These artists resuscitate the pulse of memory to fortify the archives while decelerating the momentum of erasure in this place of Freedom.

THIS WAY: A Houston Group Show was developed throughout the planning and engagement process of Rebirth in Action and organized through a grant partnership with the Houston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, curated by Mich Stevenson, CAMHxHouston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy Project Manager with support from fifth-generation Freedmen’s Town resident Charonda Johnson, CAMHxHouston Freedmen’s Town Conservancy Engagement Manager.

THIS WAY: A Houston Group Show showcases new work from Berlin, Imhotep Blot by way of Amaechina Blot; Colby Deal, Nahtan (Nate Edwards), Dom Elam, Priscilla T. Graham, Gem Hale, Ann Johnson, Charonda Johnson, Jaylen Pigford, and Jason Woods (Flash Gordon Parks). They were invited to examine innovative ways to participate in the storytelling of Black legacy and heritage in Houston Freedmen’s Town.

 


EXPLORE THE COLLECTIONS

Elbert Howze Collection (MSS 0171)

The Elbert Howze Collection contains newspaper articles, photographs, drawings, and his “Fourth Ward” photography book. The contents of the collection primarily focuses on structures, people, and life in Fourth Ward, Houston during the 1980s.

Freedmen's Town Association Collection (RG 0052)

The Freedmen's Town Association Collection contains documents and published materials pertaining to the efforts of the Freedmen's Town Association in preserving the Fourth Ward from 1983 to 1986.

General S. and Mary L. Johnson Collection (MSS 0129)

The General S. and Mary L. Johnson Collection is reflective of Mrs. Johnson's life and career, spanning mostly through the 1920s to the 1970s. The papers include original writings, correspondence, biographical material, and newspaper clippings. Significant portions of the collection represent her time as a teacher and educator, showcase her editorial writings, and signify the Johnson's involvement with the Antioch Baptist Church in Houston. Other items in the collection include photographs and objects, such as a paddle board from Phillis Wheatley High School, a swagger stick, and school ribbons from Mrs. Johnson's time as a student at the Houston Colored High School in 1917.

Ken Breisch Photographs (MSS 0187)

The Ken Breisch Collection consists of 60 35mm slides showing buildings and streets in Fourth Ward Houston, Texas between 1983 and 1999. The collection includes images of Ruthven, Mathews, Andrews, and Robin Streets.

Records of the Gregory School Project (RG 0008)

The Records of the Gregory School Project contains records, plans, meetings, reports, and correspondence that document the collaborative process of the City of Houston, the Mayor's Office, the Houston Public Library, architects, contractors, and the surrounding community in their efforts to completely restore the building into the African American Library at the Gregory School.

Reverend Jack Yates and Antioch Baptist Church Collection (MSS 0281)

This collection is an assortment of church and school ephemera such as programs, memorials, yearbooks, and directories; correspondence and documents; along with historically important photographs of Reverend Jack Yates and Fourth Ward scenes and people.

 


SUGGESTED READING

Graham, Priscilla T., 150 Years, Standing Strong

National Register of Historic Places, Freedmen's Town Historic District, Houston, Texas

The Red Book of Houston: A Compendium of Social, Professional, Religious, Educational and Industrial Interest of Houston's Colored Population

Williams, David A. (Editor), Bricks Without Straw: A Comprehensive History of African Americans in Texas

 


Major support for THIS WAY: A Houston Group Show is provided by the Mellon Foundation. Rebirth in Action is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.