Third Ward, Houston
The Third Ward, located inside the 610 Loop is immediately southeast of Downtown Houston and to the east of the Texas Medical Center. The ward became the center of Houston's African American community. In rap circles the Third Ward is referred to as "The Tre'.
Robert D. Bullard, a sociologist teaching at Texas Southern University, stated that the Third Ward is "the city's most diverse black neighborhood and a microcosm of the larger black Houston community."
Soon after the 1836 establishment of Houston, the City Council established four wards as political subdivisions of the city. The original Third Ward district extended south of Congress Street and east of Main Street and ended at the north shore of the Brays Bayou; what was then the district includes what is today portions of Downtown Houston and Midtown Houston in addition to residential African American area currently identified as the Third Ward, which is located southeast of Downtown Houston. As of 2003 the usage of the land within the boundaries of the historic Third Ward is more diverse than the land usage in the current Third Ward.
In the 1800s much of what was the Third Ward, the present day east side of Downtown Houston, was what Stephen Fox, an architectural historian who lectured at Rice University, referred to as "the elite neighborhood of late 19th-century Houston." Ralph Bivins of the Houston Chronicle said that Fox said that area was "a silk-stocking neighborhood of Victorian-era homes." Bivins said that the construction of Union Station, which occurred around 1910, caused the "residential character" of the area to "deteriorate." Hotels opened in the area to service travelers. Afterwards, according to Bivins, the area "began a long downward slide toward the skid row of the 1990s" and the hotels were changed into flophouses. Passenger trains stopped going to Union Station. The City of Houston abolished the ward system in the early 1900s, but the name "Third Ward" was continued to be used to refer to the territory that it used to cover.
Historically White people lived in the southern part of the Third Ward, while African Americans were economically segregated and lived north of Truxillo Street. By the 1930s the White and Black populations of the Third Ward were about even. After World War II White residents and the Temple Beth Israel moved from the Third Ward to newly developed suburbs on the southwest side, and the Third Ward became mostly African American. In the era of racial segregation, Almeda Road, a road located in the Third Ward area that at that time served as a corridor to Downtown Houston, was a busy commercial corridor. The construction of Interstate 45 in the 1950s separated portions of the historic Third Ward from the rest of the Third Ward and brought those portions into Downtown.
The People's Party II, a community activist organization that eventually became the Houston Chapter of the Black Panther Party was originally led by Carl Hampton - a charismatic speaker who organized the PPII at 2800 Dowling Street in the spring of 1970 to address police brutality and corruption towards Black and Brown people in the community. Hampton died after being shot without provocation by police from a top of a church on July 26, 1970. Carl Hampton's contribution to the Third Ward Community was the Rainbow Coalition that included The MAYO group - a Mexican community activist group - and The John Brown Revolutionary League, a group of White community activists. These groups worked together to bring about positive changes in their working class communities by supporting each other's "survival" programs. Programs included free childcare, free food giveaway, free fumigation for poor people, assisting the elderly in the community and free sickle cell anemia testing. Charles Boko Freeman became the PPII/local Black Panther Party Chairman. Party activity continued until membership dropped in late 1974 and early 1975 due to constant police repression. In the 1960s and 1970s many families in the Third Ward relocated to racially integrated suburbs; racial integration allowed many Blacks to move to the suburbs, therefore the Third Ward lost some of its population with decades of neglect and economic traffic. Despite the relocations the Almeda Road commercial corridor remained busy. Kent Hadnot, the executive director of the Third Ward Redevelopment Council, said in a 2000 Houston Press article that blockbusting beginning in the 1970s began to drive homeowners and business owners away from the Third Ward and into suburbs such as Missouri City. The construction of Texas State Highway 288, which offered a quicker alternative into Downtown, caused Almeda Road's commercial properties to decline. Many children of Third Ward area business owners, educated in universities, had no desire to work in their parents' businesses, reducing the employee base of the Third Ward businesses. The 1980s oil bust hurt the economy of the Third Ward and the nearby Almeda Road commercial corridor.
In 1987 Dr. Joyce Williams, the chairperson of the Southeast Area Council, an organization within the Mayor's Citizens Assistance Council, said that her group stopped referring to the area as the "Third Ward." The practice became official on Wednesday June 3, 1987 The group itself was formerly named the Third Ward Area Council. Williams said "The city has become a cosmopolitan city. The term ‘ward’ is stagnant, unsophisticated, and places areas in isolation." Williams hoped that fellow Houstonians would also stop referring to sections of the city as "wards." Kim Cobb of the Houston Chronicle explained that "She's particularly concerned about the Riverside-MacGregor area near the Medical Center that her group represents. She thinks the term "Third Ward" implies an economic division that will get in the way of the benefits that will come to the rest of the city from the opening of the George Brown Convention Center." Betty Chapman, a historian, said in 2007 "The wards haven’t had any real meaning since 1905. But people are very interested in them. They’re an important part of our history."
In 1998, a report by the Third Ward Redevelopment Council concluded that the area had 55,000 residents. In addition, the report concluded that area shoppers and residents spend $345 million outside of the Third Ward per year; the residents and shoppers spend the money in other areas such as The Galleria, Meyerland, Pearland, Rice Village, and Sharpstown. By 2000 younger business owners began to increase activity in the Almeda Road corridor. Old Spanish Trail/Almeda TIRZ funded area businesses with collected property taxes and offered incentives to prospective business owners. The redevelopment council offered prospective entrepreneurs lists of contacts and other forms of assistance. Between 1990 and 2000 the Hispanic population of the Third Ward increased by between 5 and 10 percent. In 2002 the City of Houston planned to build its olympic village in the Third Ward if its bid for the 2012 Olympic Games was successful; many Third Ward residents and activists stated that they needed to receive some form of economic benefit from the proposed facilities. Houston's bid was rejected later that year.
Around 1996 many artists began moving into the Third Ward. In 2011 Danyahel Norris, a Third Ward resident and a legal research instructor and attorney at Texas Southern University, said that he observed the first sign of gentrification in the Third Ward in 2000, when a crack house was converted into a high-end residence. By 2004, many wealthier African Americans and Whites began to move into the Third Ward area. Some activists in the Third Ward area created campaigns encouraging area residents to not sell their homes to new residents to avoid gentrification and re-development. By 2006 many townhouses appeared in the area across the freeway from the Third Ward, with childless couples, empty nesters, and yuppies occupying the movements. Garnet Coleman—a state representative from the area—expressed his opposition to gentrification and a desire to keep the original residents in the neighborhood. Coleman had some control over the Midtown Tax Increment Financing District, which bought land in the Third Ward and enacted deeds restricting what may be done with the land, so that the land could indefinitely be used to house low income residents. In 2009, Coleman said "We learned a lot from the debacle in the Fourth Ward. So it would be stupid not to respond to the negative byproducts of rapid development. We want to find people who will make this community better by becoming part of its fabric, not by changing its fabric." In 2010 Norris published an article in the Thurgood Marshall Law Review stating how existing Third Ward residents could continue to keep their properties, including enforcing deed restrictions; because the City of Houston does not have zoning, many Houston neighborhoods use deed restrictions to maintain their existing setups and atmospheres.
In 2010 Paul Knight of the Houston Press wrote that from 2000 to 2010, "while other areas of the inner city have redeveloped dramatically in the last decade," citing the changes in the Fourth Ward, "the Third Ward has, except for a few pockets, remained unchanged." By 2016 the western Third Ward was undergoing new development, influenced by Midtown to the west, while many demolitions occurred in the northeast Third Ward. In a ten-year period ending in 2016 the rate of construction was lower than the Harris County average while the rate of demolition in the Third Ward was higher than the county average.
The Third Ward is north of the Riverside Terrace community, North MacGregor Boulevard, and South MacGregor Boulevard. The area is northeast of the Texas Medical Center, Hermann Park, and the Houston Museum District, which are west of Texas State Highway 288. It is in close proximity to Downtown Houston.
Roger Wood, author of Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues, said that "determining exactly where to draw" the boundaries of the Third Ward "is not easily done" due to the variety of opinions about what the Third Ward is. The redevelopment council has a defined set of boundaries, with the Houston Belt & Terminal Railroad as the eastern boundary of the Third Ward area. Joe "Guitar" Hughes, a local musician, stated that the Third Ward's cultural southern boundary was Truxillo Street, regardless of any technical map divisions, due to the cultural division between the shotgun shack areas to the north and the houses to the south. According to Hughes, the eastern boundary is a low rent group of houses near Texas Southern University that he refers to as "Sugar Hill." Wood says that among area musicians, the Third Ward's boundaries are usually thought of as extending southward from the junction of Interstate 45 (Gulf Freeway) and Interstate 69/U.S. Route 59 (Southwest Freeway) to the Brays Bayou, with Main Street forming the western boundary.
The definition of the Third Ward as of 2004 differs from the definition of the historical Third Ward political entity. Will Howard, an assistant manager of the Texas and local history department of the Houston Public Library, said in 2004 "They are cultural entities today, not legal entities, and like any culture, they are almost obligated to change." Jeannie Kever of the Houston Chronicle said "That evolution allows people to designate the area around Texas Southern University the Third Ward, for example, even though the city limits stopped far short of there in the early 1900s."
Katharine Shilcutt of the Houston Press said that the Third Ward boundaries as southwest of Interstate 45, southeast of Interstate 69/U.S. Route 59/Texas State Highway 288, north of Blodgett and Wheeler, and west of Texas State Highway 5/Calhoun. Shilcutt said that in her article on the best restaurants on the Third Ward, due to historical reasons she adjusted the western boundary to Almeda Road and the southern boundary down to MacGregor Way.
In 1995 T. R. Witcher of the Houston Press reported that the Third Ward, as defined by the Third Ward Redevelopment Council, "may be the most variegated community in Houston." Witcher described the area west of Texas Southern University, "the heart of the Third Ward," as having "blocks of sturdy, well-tended brick houses," and being the "home" to the "diminished but still-viable base of middle-class and working-class homeowners and renters" of the area. The brick houses, south of Truxillo are larger and, in the words of Roger Wood, author of Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues, "nicer" than the housing stock north of Truxillo. Throughout the history of the Third Ward, African Americans gradually occupied the brick houses. As of 2003 the brick houses are in varying conditions; Woods said that some are "beautifully renovated," some are "respectfully maintained," and some are "severely neglected."
Witcher described the northern part of the Third Ward, which in his view "more than any other in the Third Ward, call to mind the word 'ghetto,' Houston-style," as having "rows of shotgun shacks, worn frame houses and fraying apartments" owned by absentee landlords. The section included crime, families affected by welfare dependency, unemployment, and proliferation of recreational drugs. In the summer residents of that area who wanted to cool down from the summer heat sat on porches and visited friends on the streets. The Third Ward area included many churches of varying sizes; some churches still attracted members who lived in Missouri City and other suburbs. The shotgun shacks, located north of Truxillo Street, are smaller and more cheaply built than the houses, and they have been historically occupied by working class African Americans. Some shotgun shacks have been continually occupied, and some shotgun shacks have been abandoned; some of the abandoned shotgun shacks have been boarded up.
Dowling Street has served as the main northeast to southeast artery of the Third Ward. The street intersects with Elgin, Holman, Southmore, and Wheeler. It was named after the Confederate soldier Dick Dowling. Roger Wood, author of Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues, said that the street is widely viewed as the center of Houston's blues music culture. Big Robert Smith, an area singer, called Dowling the "main street of black Houston." Witcher described the Dowling Street corridor, which once functioned as the main commercial area of the Third Ward, as still having "many thriving enterprises" while its blocks have "an unsettling profusion of empty, overgrown lots and dilapidated structures."
In 2013 Katharine Shilcutt of the Houston Press said that "Today, the Third Ward possess a dynamic mix of old and new as the area slowly undergoes a slow gentrification process: beautiful brick homes abutting wonderfully divey restaurants like Chief Cajun Snack Shack, 80-year-old meat markets turned into vegan coffee shops, non-profit arts organizations such as Project Row Houses side-by-side with still-occupied row houses."
Government and infrastructure
The Houston Police Department's South Central Patrol Division, headquartered at 2022 St. Emanuel in the Third Ward, serves the neighborhood. HPD opened the South Central Police Station in 1986 when the Central Police Station, 61 Riesner, split and the 3rd Ward, the East End and the Medical Center became 10 District. 3rd Ward, had one of the highest crime and homicide rates in the City and the South Central Police Station was Chief Browns attempt to include the citizens in his "NOP" or Neighborhood Oriented Policing.
Fire and emergency medical services are provided by Houston Fire Department Station 25 Third Ward. The station is in Fire District 8. The station opened at the intersection of Blodgett and Velasco in 1928 and opened in its current location at Rosewood at Scott in 1979.
The city operates the Third Ward Multi-Service Center at 3611 Ennis Street. The city multi-service centers provide several services such as child care, programs for elderly residents, and rental space.
Houston City Council District D includes the Third Ward. In the 2000s the Third Ward was split between districts D and I. In the 1990s it was split between districts D, E, and I.
The Houston Housing Authority operates Cuney Homes, a public housing complex. Cuney is across from Texas Southern University. It first opened in 1938, and it was modernized in 1997. It is named after Norris Wright Cuney, a Texas politician who assisted African-Americans during the Reconstruction.
County, state, and federal representation
A 2013 NeighborhoodScout.com crime study that analyzed data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) concluded that a neighborhood centered at the intersection of Dowling Street and McGowen Street, within the Third Ward area, was #15 in its list of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States. The report stated that each resident, each year, has a 1 in 13 chance of being a victim of violent crime, and the violent crime rate was 75.89 out of 1,000. According to the report, this neighborhood "stands out to NeighborhoodScout partly because it has more sales and service workers than nearly any other neighborhood in the country. The area also has a very high concentration of studio apartments and other small living areas." The head of the MacGregor Super Neighborhood Council, Terrence Shanks, stated that "The people that wrote it (ranking) probably don't live there. I'm personally out in that area, I have meetings in that area and I don't see what they're seeing as far a high crime rate neighborhood. I'm not saying that no area is without crime. I think folks need to come and spend some time with us and get to know us, rather look at us as statistics."
Colleges and universities
The historic Third Ward area has the campus of Texas Southern University. Waldivia Ardlaw of Cite: The Architecture + Design Review of Houston wrote that the university serves as "the cultural and community center of" the Third Ward area where it is located, in addition to being its university.
In addition, the University of Houston is located within proximity of the area.
The area previously housed the Houston Negro College of Nursing. The facility, as of 2003, now houses a charter school.
Primary and secondary schools
Area students attend schools in the Houston Independent School District. The community is within Trustee District IV, represented by Paula M. Harris as of 2009.
Elementary schools serving sections of the Third Ward include Blackshear, located in the Third Ward; and Lockhart in Riverside Terrace, All area residents are zoned to Cullen Middle School and Yates High School. The Baylor College of Medicine Academy at Ryan, a magnet school, is located in the former Ryan Middle School building.
The Texas Southern University/Houston Independent School District Charter Laboratory School is in the Third Ward. The building housing the Contemporary Learning Center and the Young Women's College Preparatory Academy is in the Third Ward area. DeBakey High School is also in the Third Ward area. Energy Institute High School is in the former Dodson Elementary School in East Downtown, which once served the Third Ward.
KIPP: the Knowledge Is Power Program operates the KIPP Liberation College Preparatory School, a middle school charter school, in the Third Ward. KIPP operates KIPP Sunnyside High School near Sunnyside; that school has some students from the Third Ward.
History of public schools
Allan Turner of the Houston Chronicle said that the building now belonging to Ryan Middle School and formerly housing Yates High School served as an "educational anchor" for the Third Ward as many professionals in the Third Ward community such as educators, ministers, and lawyers received education in it.
Allen Elementary School opened as an elementary school for White people on February 1, 1907; back then the schools were segregated. Longfellow Junior High School, located at 2202 St. Emanuel Street, opened in 1913. Blackshear Elementary School opened in 1916. Bowie Elementary School opened in 1921. Johnston Middle School opened in 1925. Douglass opened in 1927. Bowie was renamed to Dodson Elementary School in 1945; for a period it was the second-largest Black elementary school in the Third Ward area.
In 1955 a new Allen elementary opened in another area not in proximity to the Third Ward. The former Allen campus became the Yates Annex, a school for Black 7th Graders meant to relieve Yates High School. In 1956 the campus was renamed J. Will Jones Elementary School, relieving Blackshear and Dunbar schools. In September 1959 the new Johnston opened in Meyerland and the old Johnston became Miller Junior High School. Blackshear received an expansion in 1960. In 1961 the Longfellow building began to house Dunbar Elementary School. Blackshear received expansions in 1965. In 1966 J. Will Jones received a 12 classroom annex. Contemporary Learning Center began in 1973 and moved into the former Miller building in 1976. Blackshear received an expansion in 1980. Dunbar closed in 1981. Kazi Shule, an HISD-affiliated charter school in the Third Ward serving grades 4-6, opened in 1996. The name in Swahili meant "The Working School".
Due to a decline in enrollment, HISD closed Douglass Elementary School in May 2005. In spring 2005 Douglass Elementary had 274 students and had faced a 26 percent decline in enrollment in a five-year period leading to 2005. After Hurricane Katrina struck in the fall of that year Douglass temporarily reopened to accommodate hurricane refugees. The HISD board voted 6-1 to lease Douglass to the KIPP program for one year, so the Katrina school could operate. KIPP opened NOW (New Orleans West) College Prep, a temporary K-8 school. In March 2006, HISD agreed to sell the Douglass Building to Yellowstone Academy. Yellowstone bid on the building for $1.9 million ($2234021.13 when adjusted for inflation).
In May 2006 Kazi Shule closed. The TSU/HISD Lab School opened in fall 2006. Before the start of the 2009-2010 school year J. Will Jones Elementary School, which was located in Midtown Houston and served sections of the Third Ward, was consolidated into Blackshear. During its final year of enrollment J. Will Jones had more students than Blackshear. Many J. Will Jones parents referred to Blackshear as "that prison school" and said that they will not send their children to Blackshear. Jones will house Houston Community College classes after its closure as a school. Turner Elementary School, a school in Riverside Terrace which served a section of the Third Ward, closed in 2009 and consolidated into Lockhart; by Spring 2011 a new campus was scheduled to be built on the Lockhart site. In March 2013 the HISD board voted to close Ryan Middle School and move all students into the zone of Cullen Middle School.
In 2013 the new Lockhart campus was to only have the Lockhart name, without combining "Lockhart" and "Turner", resulting in protests. HISD dedicated the campus, scheduled to house about 750 students, on Thursday August 22, 2013. The funds to build the campus originate from the 2007 bond.
In 2014 the Dodson school had about 445 students. That year, the HISD school board was to vote on whether to close Dodson Elementary. Terry Grier, the HISD superintendent, argued that Dodson needs to close so another school will be located there while its permanent facility is under construction. On Thursday March 13, 2014, the HISD board voted to close Dodson Elementary 5-4. The Montessori program will move to Blackshear Elementary. As part of rezoning for the 2014-2015 school year, all areas in the Third Ward previously under the Dodson zone were moved to the Blackshear zone.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Houston operates area Roman Catholic private schools. St. Mary of the Purification School (Kindergarten through grade 5) and St. Peter the Apostle Middle School (grades 6 through 8), are in the area. St. Mary, located in the Riverside Terrace area, opened in a temporary building on September 8, 1930. The building was blessed on October 27. The Sisters of Dominic operated the school until it closed in 1967. The school reopened in 1980 as a Montessori school.
Yellowstone Academy, a Christian private school, is in the Third Ward. Yellowstone opened in August 2002, but in 2006 it agreed to purchase Douglass Elementary School from the Houston Independent School District.
Gallery of schools
- Blackshear Elementary School
- Texas Southern University/Houston Independent School District Charter Laboratory School
The Third Ward is served by the Houston Public Library Smith Neighborhood Library at 3624 Scott Street.
The Quentin Mease Community Hospital, operated by the Harris County Hospital District, is located in the Third Ward area.
The Martin Luther King Health Center first opened on April 28, 1972. Quentin Mease opened in 1983. At one point, the MLK health center was located on the first and third floors of Quentin Mease. MLK's standalone facility on Cullen Boulevard was scheduled to open in 2009 and free space at Quentin Mease. On May 14, 2010, MLK relocated to a site in southern Houston, on Swingle Road.
The southeast branch of the American Red Cross serves the Third Ward.
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO) operates public transportation services, including buses and the METRORail tram service. METRORail Purple Line stations serving the Third Ward include:
- Leeland/Third Ward (in the East Downtown)
- Elgin/Third Ward
- Robertson Stadium/UH/TSU
- UH South/University Oaks
Project Row Houses (PRH) is a community-based arts and culture non-profit organization in Houston’s northern Third Ward, one of the city’s oldest African American neighborhoods. It was founded in 1993 by artist and community activist Rick Lowe, along with James Bettison (1991), Bert Long (1940-2013), Jesse Lott, Floyd Newsum, Bert Samples, and George Smith, all seeking to establish a positive, creative and transformative presence in this historic community. Inspired by both the American artist Dr. John Biggers (1924-2001) and the German artist Josef Beuys (1921-1986), PRH is a unique experiment in activating the intersections between art, historic preservation, affordable and innovative housing, community relations and development, neighborhood revitalization, and human empowerment.
Katharine Shilcutt of the Houston Press said that the Third Ward includes "a diverse mix of restaurants to suit every taste". Among these are fried chicken restaurants; The original Frenchy's Chicken and its satellite location are both located in the Third Ward.
Parks and recreation
Emancipation Park and Emancipation Community Center are located at 3018 Dowling Street. Around 1870 the original owners of Emancipation Park purchased it to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. The community center includes an indoor gymnasium, a weight room, and meeting rooms. The park has an outdoor basketball pavilion, lighted sports fields, lighted tennis courts, a swimming pool, a playground, and picnic areas.
Moses Leroy Park is located at 3100 Trulley Street. Our Park is located at 2604 Alabama Street. Zurrie M. Malone Park is located at 2901 Nettleton Street, near Anita Street.Riverside Park is located at 2600 Calumet .
Famous people who have lived in Third Ward include:
- Debbie Allen
- Arnett Cobb
- Albert Collins
- Johnny Copeland
- Garnet Coleman (State representative)
- John C. Creuzot, Texas state district judge and son of Frenchy's Chicken founder Percy "Frenchy" Creuzot and manager Sallie Creuzot
- Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins
- Dexter Manley Big Moe
- Anthony Obi "Fat Tony"
- Pat Parker
- Phylicia Rashad (Formerly Phylicia Ayers-Allen)
- Sheila Jackson Lee
- Guy Lewis
- Solange Knowles
- Robert Hodge
In popular culture
Beyoncé was raised in the Third Ward and features the neighborhood in her music video "No Angel" from her 2013 self-titled fifth album Beyoncé. Also from the album, songs "Drunk in Love" and "Pretty Hurts" further representation of the neighborhood is portrayed.
Rapper Drake has also made references to the third ward, as well as Houston more generally, in his music. In his 2014 single "Days in the East," he states: "Know I do this [expletive] for Third Ward already/ Know I do this [expletive] for H-town already." Despite hailing from Toronto, Drake repeatedly mentions Houston in his songs and has adopted it as a city he represents.
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further reading references for People's Party II/Black Panther Party in Third Ward Houston (circa 1970-1975): People's Party II and the Black Panther Party in Houston by Charles E. Jones also: itsabouttimebpp.com
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Third Ward, Houston.|
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