The Emancipation Park, a Houston landmark, now has a new-and-improved look for future generations to enjoy.
Just in time for Juneteenth, a rededication ceremony and day-long festival were held on Saturday to honor the park’s improvements.
“I want to thank you, the people who’ve made it possible for this day because you did not leave. You stayed in Third Ward and because you did not leave, we’re celebrating this day in a very special way,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said during the ceremony.
The park is the oldest park site in the city of Houston. It was purchased for $800 in 1872 by a group of former enslaved African Americans as a gathering place to celebrate freedom.
Now the park has undergone a $33 million makeover and is poised to become a jewel in Houston’s evolving Third Ward neighborhood.
President Lincoln 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.