Heritage, 2011, Volume 3 Page: 26
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By Debra Blacklock-Sloan
The story of the Yates family is an important one in
Houston's history. Reverend John Henry (Jack) helped shape
the development and culture of the city's Fourth Ward,
known as Freedmen's Town during the late 1800s. His life
was dedicated to establishing the necessary institutions and
businesses that allowed this African-American community to
flourish during the era of change that followed emancipa-
tion. His son Rutherford B.H. Yates followed in his father's
footsteps by also working to improve the quality of life in
this city neighborhood during the 20th century. Olee Yates
McCullough, Rutherford's daughter, inspired the effort to
save not just her family's home and heritage, but to protect
and preserve a piece of Houston's past-the story of
Jack Yates, wife Harriet, and their children came to Texas
with their slave holder in 1864 or 1865. The family moved
to Houston soon after emancipation became official in Texas,
June 19, 1865 (the day now referred to as Juneteenth). Yates
worked hauling goods around the city and began preaching
as a Baptist minister. By the time son Rutherford was born
in 1878, Reverend Yates had laid a solid foundation of civic
obligation for his family. As pastor of Antioch Baptist
Church and then Bethel Baptist Church, two of the city's
most influential institutions, he encouraged parishioners to
become landowners, educate themselves, and learn a trade.
Providing education for the freedmen community was an
important mission, and the minister successfully lobbied for
the establishment of Bishop College in Marshall, the state's
first black Baptist institution of higher learning. He also
helped create Houston Baptist Academy (1885), which pro-
vided primary, secondary, and industrial coursework as an
alternative to the public high school.
With the help of Trinity Methodist Church members and
community leaders, Yates led the effort to found Houston's
Emancipation Park (1872) located in the Third Ward. The
Reverend and his coalition bought the 10-acre property as a
place where African Americans could commemorate
Juneteenth. The public park was later donated to the City of
Reverend John Henry Yates died in 1897, and 29 years
later, Houston Independent School District named a public
high school in his honor. His home, built around 1870, was
26 TEXASHERITAGE I Volume 3 2011
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 3, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254222/m1/26/: accessed June 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.