Jack Yates: A Houston Legend
When visitors stroll through the historic fourth ward in Houston, Texas, one name seems to echo throughout the community: John Henry “Jack” Yates. He is honored in the city as one of the most respected leaders of his time.
Most Houstonians are familiar with Jack Yates High school, named in his honor. But beyond the bold letters written across the institution stood a man of many accomplishments.
Yates was born enslaved in Virginia before coming to Texas. He eventually gained his freedom and entered back into slavery to be with his wife and children. His deep love for family started him on the journey to Houston, where he laid his roots and solidified himself as a community leader.
Yates advocated for Black ownership and education. He became an influential member of Houston’s Freedman’s town, a thriving Black community in the heart of the fourth ward during the late 1800s. The historic town is where he built his first home and helped establish many organizations. Most of which created ingenuity for newly freed slaves after emancipation.
While enslaved, he secretly learned to read, write, and do basic math from his master’s son. These skills helped Yates become a savvy businessman and instrumental in helping teach other Blacks.
He led Antioch Missionary Baptist Church as an ordained minister and started one of the first horseback ministries to preach sermons for Black communities within a 100-mile radius. Yates was a religious leader and an astute businessman with a passion for uplifting his community.
In 1872, he founded Emancipation Park alongside Richard Brock, Richard Allen, and Rev. David Elias Dibble. The park remains the oldest in Houston and continues to draw hundreds each year for Juneteenth celebrations. Emancipation Park visitors recognize him as one of the four founders, but those in the neighborhood surrounding the park know him by his trailblazing contributions. The name Yates unanimously follows praise. He was committed to improving Black communities and is often celebrated as a Houston legend and one of the city’s most respected leaders.