Voices Breaking Boundaries

Freedmen's Town gets its due: Vibrant past of overlooked historic neighborhood being recovered

Freedmen's Town gets its due: Vibrant past of overlooked historic neighborhood being recovered

Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Photo by © Akbar Baloch
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Photo by © Akbar Baloch
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Photo by © Paul Hester
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Photo by © Paul Hester
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
The event will also examine a community in Karachi, Pakistan which has historic roots in east Africa. Photo by © Akbar Baloch
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Voices Breaking Boundaries will explore the history of Freedman's Town during its new Saturday production, titled "Histories and Homes." Photo by © Paul Hester
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012
Voices Breaking Boundaries, Fourth Ward, November 2012

For its latest production, arts group Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB) is hoping to shed light on Freedmen's Town — one of the most historically dynamic (and most historically overlooked) neighborhoods in Houston.

Located in the Fourth Ward just west of downtown, the small African-American community sprang up at the close of the Civil War along the banks of Buffalo Bayou as former slaves relocated throughout the South after Emancipation. By the century's end, Freedmen's Town was the epicenter of African-American culture in Houston before overcrowding and segregationist city policy brought about the enclave's demise by the Second World War.

"For all its importance to the city, it's amazing how many Houstonians have never even heard of Freedmen's Town, let alone been to it." 

On Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m., the "Home and Histories" art event will help to recover some of the neighborhood's vibrant past though a series of public performances, exhibitions and tours.

"For all its importance to the city, it's amazing how many Houstonians have never even heard of Freedmen's Town, let alone been to it," explains artist and VBB director Sehba Sarwar. "While we usually stage our productions in a house, we've decided to take 'Homes and Histories' out onto the street so people can experience the neighborhood."

Guests can follow a two-block route from Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum at 1314 Andrews to the the African American Library at historic Gregory School (1300 Victor), taking in site-specific material by Houston artists Amanda Hart, Paul Hester, Autumn Knight and Robert Pruitt as well as Dutch filmmaker Babette Niemel. All five artists will be present to discuss their work.

To offer a global point of comparison, VBB also will focus on Lyari, one of Karachi's oldest neighborhoods and home to a large community that traces its roots to east Africa. Pakistan-based photographer Akbar Baloch will share three decades of images he's taken of Lyari.

Also included in the production will be work by Tina Dismukes, Jibran Jawaid, Kaneem Smith, the KoumanKele African Dance & Drum Ensemble and Sarwar herself. 

"Home and Histories" starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Yates Museum. Visit the Voices Breaking Boundaries website for further details.