In this issue: Independence Heights (Harris County), the state of the Atlas, TxFCP back in the field, announcing an event September 4, and more!

Freedom Colony Feature

Freedom Colony Feature: Independence Heights (Harris County)

Independence Heights was the first Black settlement in Texas to legally incorporate as a city and one of only 50-60 Black towns in the U.S. to do so. In January 1915, the community voted overwhelmingly in favor of incorporation. At the time, Independence Heights was home to approximately 600 residents.

Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Independence Heights,

Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, Independence Heights (TSHA)

The Wright Land Company secured the land that became Independence Heights and developed a new community for African Americans. By doing their own financing, they made it possible for people with little income to be homeowners. Many of the homes were one-story bungalows. Residents established several churches during the time Independence Heights was an independent city.

"Independence Heights Will Be Incorporated" Newspapar Clipping

Houston Post Article on the incorporation of Independence Heights, January 17, 1915.

Independence Heights voted to be annexed by the City of Houston, hoping for access to city services. Annexation took place in late December 1929. City services were very slow to materialize. Construction of I-45 and Loop 610 cut through the community. Thanks to the hard work of those who refused to let Independence Heights be forgotten, parts of the community were recognized and provided some preservation protection. In 1989, a Texas Historical Commission marker was placed on the grounds of Greater New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, and in 1997 approximately 70 acres of the original subdivision were listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Houses in Independence Heights from the 1997 NRHP Nomination
Historic Marker for Independence Heights
Black Towns Matter

This recognition has not saved Independence Heights from being overlooked – a 2019 compliance document detailing the expansion of I-45 scarcely mentioned the impacts to the neighborhood. Residents have been vocal advocates for including mitigation measures to benefit Independence Heights as a community in the I-45 plan. The final decision on a plan for I-45 has not yet been made.

To learn more about the work of the Independence Heights Redevelopment Council and their work to empower the community, including the November 2021 Independence Heights Festival, visit their website!

Sources: The TxFCP Atlas, TSHA, and Andy Olin’s “The struggle to preserve the Black experience in Houston” from the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.) For a deeper look at Independence Heights during its time as an independent city, see “Independence Heights: A Portrait of a Historic Neighborhood.”

Do you have more information about Independence Heights? Share your story!

Would you like your freedom colony featured in a future newsletter? Email us!

TxFCP News

Screenshot of the TxFCP Atlas Dashboard showing the latest numbers of freedom colonies located, needing more research, not located, and the number of public input entries

The State of the Atlas

If you’ve used the Atlas Dashboard this summer, you’ve probably noticed the numbers changing…

What’s new with the Atlas this summer?

The Texas Freedom Colonies Project Atlas is constantly changing – users like you are always adding stories, photos, and other information! The Texas Freedom Colonies Project Team is always making functional improvements as well. This summer Jennifer Blanks and new team member Christian Heinemann have been reviewing and consolidating entries with public input, leading to more “located” freedom colonies.

Generally, we consider a freedom colony “located” when it has a name, a location, an associated resource, and some documentation of its history as a free Black place. In February 2021, the Atlas Dashboard showed 357 located freedom colonies – now there are 415!

What’s next for the Atlas?

In addition to reviewing the amazing public input we receive, the research team will be systematically reviewing some sources that were used to built the Atlas, such as the Texas Historical Commission’s marker database, for new and updated information. Adopt-A-County volunteers will be adding new information as they research freedom colonies and new sources of data. So look for those Dashboard numbers to keep changing.

How can I help enrich the Atlas?

We have a goal to add more “visual history” for freedom colonies – do you have a family picture, newspaper article, reunion program, obituary, or even a hand-drawn map? Add it to the Atlas and help us expand the visual history of Texas freedom colonies!

Explore the Atlas

A recent analysis of Atlas data revealed that these are the top 5 counties with freedom colonies that are “not located”:

1) Freestone
2) Panola
3) San Jacinto
4) Gonzales
5) Nacogdoches

Do you have information to share about a freedom colony in one of these counties or anywhere in Texas? Share your story!

The TxFCP Team Returns to the Field

The TxFCP Team has been returning to work in the field! Members of the team made trips to Marion, Jasper, and Newton counties to pilot the cemetery assessment tool developed as part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant.

Site visits to Jasper and Newton counties were especially resonant for Dr. Andrea Roberts and members of the team – The Texas Freedom Colonies Project began with Dr. Roberts’ research in Jasper and Newton counties. Freedom colony descendants and advocates like Fred McCray (pictured above at Camptown Cemetery) and Lareatha Clay (pictured in purple below at Jim Shankle Cemetery) were there at the genesis of this project and continue to inspire the path forward. You can learn more about the Texas African American Cemetery Registry here.

Additionally, members of the team have been researching at the Prairie View A&M University Archives on Washington County for a project with the Brenham Heritage Museum. (Keep reading for an event announcement!)

The State of Black Land: Law, Policy, Latest News, Information, and Resources

Brief updates on Black land issues – read the full blog post for more information!

Recently, we’ve seen some movement towards social justice for Black farmers and landowners. With Executive Order 13985: Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities, we are moving in the right direction, but your feedback and voice can improve this order. Read the order and comment here.

The Biden Administration has announced its intention to invest $67M to help heirs resolve land ownership and succession issue through the new USDA Heirs’ Property Relending Program. This program aims to help agricultural producers and landowners resolve heirs’ land ownership and succession issues.

This article in the Washington Post explains the systematic issues creating barriers to accessing government resources, in this case, disaster recovery to aid Black families.

The Texas Coalition of Rural Landowners (TCRL) was officially registered by the Texas Secretary of State on April 30, 2021- it is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to providing services to any producer in the state or nation who has issues with maintaining their land. If you have questions about the services TCRL offers or would like to discuss how TCRL can assist you, please email them at

The Land Loss Prevention Project has developed this helpful handbook called “10 Ways to Save Your Land”

Find our Saving Texas Freedom Colonies Guidebook here.

At the Texas Freedom Colonies Project, we are continuously working on compiling more resources on land issues. Visit the blog post for more information and our Black Land Resources page.

TxFCP Events

Oral Traditions Workshop & Community Archive Drive in Brenham (September 4)

September 4, 10:00 am – 1:00 pm at the Nancy Carol Roberts Memorial Library, 100 Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy, Brenham, TX

This event is free. Feel free to share widely. We hope to see you there! You can find the event on Facebook here. Keep an eye on our social media for more information!

2021 Aya Virtual Symposium a Success!

The 2021 Aya Symposium, virtual this year, was a great success! A truly thought-provoking program on “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity” brought together presenters and panelists from all over Texas and the country. We thank all who participated! Want to keep up with the latest on the Aya Symposium? Follow them on Facebook!

Questions or comments? Email us! Thank you for reading!

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Active through 04/10/2023