Third Ward is an area in Houston, Texas, that evolved from one of the six historic wards. Third Ward is located in the southwest Houston area and inside the 610 Loop. This ward is considered the center of Houston’s African American community, and it is sometimes called the “Tre.” In this article, we will learn more about the rich history of Third Ward, Houston.
When Houston, Texas, was incorporated and divided into four wards in 1837, the Southeastward became known as the Third Ward. Over time, this area slowly became an important center of African American-owned businesses as well as a hub for black culture.
Originally, Third Ward was comprised of the area in the east of Main Street and south of Congress Street. After the Civil War ended, former slaves from the surrounding Houston area started to move into Third Ward. However, during that time, African Americans were forced to live on the ward’s borders. When whites began to move to the suburbs, the blacks had the opportunity to purchase properties located in the community’s heart. Influential African Americans that were led by Reverend John Henry Yates managed to raise $8,000 to purchase four acres of land in 1872. Later on, they decided to use this land and established the Emancipation Park, the first-ever park for black Houstonians. This park also became the home of the annual Juneteenth Celebration, which commemorates African Americans’ liberation from slavery in Texas.
From the 1910s to the 1930s, the Third Ward’s African Americans’ population skyrocketed from 22,929 to 66,357. As a result, African American owned businesses also started to increase along Dowling Street, which eventually became the Third Ward’s main business strip.
Along with this development, Dowling Street in Third Ward also became Houston’s center of blues movement. The blues clubs here also became places where artists from the South and Southwest artists went to experiment and practice their craft. Back then, African Americans from all over East Texas came to frequent the nightlife in Third Ward to have a fun night and a quick release from the everyday realities of the Jim Crow South.
Aside from being the center of the blues movement, Third Ward also has other community landmarks like the Jack Yates High School, which is the second African American high school in Houston, the Shape Community Center, the Covington House, which served as Houston’s unofficial guest lodgings for several well-known African American visitors, and the Riverside Hospital, which is Houston’s first non-profit hospital for African Americans in Houston. In 1947, Texas Southern University was founded, and it became the largest institution in the ward.
During the first half of the 20th century, African Americans started to leave the South to look for better opportunities in the North. Unlike other white urban leaders in the South, the Houston Chamber of Commerce released advertisements for “Heavenly Houston,” in an effort to lure blacks to the city. During the early 1950s, wealthy and middle-class blacks started to leave Third Ward as they integrated all-white residential areas formerly. Through the 1960s and 1970s, migration continues. However, it also included business departures. The businesses that departed left Third Ward a shell of its former prominence.
Today, Third Ward has about 33,000 residents remaining. Unfortunately, despite the efforts to gentrify the area, the residents and community leaders started a concerted effort to protect, preserve, and celebrate the rich heritage and history of Third Ward.