Richard Allen: A Political Leader
Richard Allen was never involved with politics before 1867. In fact, he was illiterate for the first 40 years years of his life. A skilled carpenter, all Allen knew were the demands from his enslaver to build and construct. These skills soon worked to his advantage as he eventually built a name for himself as a distinguished politician—taking many by surprise.Born enslaved in Virginia and brought to Texas in 1837, most knew Allen for his handy work. He built one of the first bridges over the Buffalo Bayou in Houston. He also built the home of Houston Mayor Joseph R. Morris and created the design for the historic Antioch Baptist Church. Allen touched several parts of Houston through his craft after Emancipation and proved that he had more to offer the community than design work. In 1867, he worked as a federal voter registrar to help newly freed slaves vote. This experience catapulted him into politics. By 1870, he became literate and set on a mission to help educate others. He was a trustee of the Gregory school, the first school for Black children in Houston. The institute is now a library that focuses on preserving Black history.
Allen helped create several opportunities for newly freed slaves in Houston during his time.
Notably, he is one of the four founders of Emancipation Park. The park was the only public recreational space and swimming pool for Blacks during segregation. Allen became a trustee of the Colored People of Harris County Festival Association. He became a Republican politician and the first Black man to serve in the Texas Legislature. He was passionate about education, civil rights, and law enforcement. He died on May 16, 1906, but his contributions as a carpenter and politician are sill seen throughout Houston.