New exhibit explores history of Freedmen's Town

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Monday, February 26, 2024
New exhibit explores history of Freedmen's Town
A groundbreaking new exhibit explores the stories of Freedmen's Town through art.

HOUSTON, Texas -- A groundbreaking new exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston explores the legacy and heritage of Freedmen's Town through the work of 12 talented black artists. THIS WAY: A Houston Group Show is a collection of photographs, paintings, artifacts, sculpture and more that tells the stories of the historic community's struggles and perseverance.

"Freedmen's Town is everybody's story," said artist Priscilla T. Graham, whose work is featured in THIS WAY. "It will pull your heartstrings when you walk through the different exhibits within the museum."

Freedmen's Town, located in the Fourth Ward, was first founded after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865 as Houston's first independent African American neighborhood. Freed slaves built schools, churches and paved the streets with bricks.

THIS WAY opens with a photograph illustrating the 2014 battle to save the historic bricks, after city crews began removing them to replace water and sewer pipes.

"When they first walk in, they'll see a picture of the iconic Mrs. Dorris Ellis Robinson. Dorris Ellis is actually lying in the brick streets and it was just enough brick streets taken out of those streets, which was 45, for her to lay her body in as if it were a coffin," said Graham. "What a great representation of Freedmen's Town rising at this particular time and moment in history."

Other installations help visitors step back in time and see history with their own eyes. One piece displays artifacts from the Ebony Bar, a longtime local hangout, including its iconic jukebox.

"Oftentimes people think that preservation is referring to the past, which it is, but more specifically in this context, preservation is focused on the future," said curator Mich Stevenson. "The intention is to leave a legacy and a story ahead so that those that are here in the present, especially the young people, arrive at and understand that they have just as much ownership in this history as everyone who has come before them. That they are, in fact, their ancestors wildest dreams."

THIS WAY: A Houston Group Show will be on display at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston through March 24th.