Founded on the south banks of Buffalo Bayou soon after the June 19, 1865 emancipation of enslaved blacks, Freedman's Town became the center of Houston's African American community. It originally stretched from Buffalo Bayou south to Sutton Street, and west from Milam and Travis streets to Taft Street.
During its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Freedman's Town featured hundreds of houses, many of which were small "shotgun" frame dwellings, a common folk building type found along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas. Most often associated with African American neighborhoods, the shotgun form has been traced to black residents of Haiti, and through them to original homelands in Africa. The neighborhood also featured a number of larger homes built by community leaders, including the Rev. Jack Yates, his son Rutherford B. Yates, Alfred Smith, the Rev. Jeremiah Smith and the Rev. Ned P. Pullam. Churches and schools in Freedman's Town largely formed the basis for a strong and proud community identity. In addition, the neighborhood featured many businesses and institutions, including a high school, library, hospital and newspapers.
By the 1930s, Freedman's Town was the economic center for black Houston, the location of a high percentage of the city's black-owned businesses. From 1940 to the present, though, increased area development, including urban renewal programs and highway construction, has adversely affected Freedman's Town. Due to the perseverance of community residents, a large portion of the neighborhood was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.