John Henry Yates
July 11, 1828
|Died||December 22, 1897 (aged 69)|
|Known for||Antioch Baptist Church, Houston|
Emancipation Park, Houston
|Notable work||Jack Yates House (Sam Houston Park, Houston)|
John Henry "Jack" Yates (July 11, 1828 – December 22, 1897) was an American freedman, minister, and community leader. Born enslaved in Gloucester County, Virginia on July 11, 1828, Yates was taught to read at an early age by his enslaver's child. He married Harriet Willis, who was enslaved on a neighboring farm. When her enslaver moved his plantation to Texas to avoid emancipation, Yates, then a free man, asked to be re-enslaved in order to stay with his family. He joined his family in Matagorda County, Texas until their emancipation in 1865. The family then relocated to Houston, where he helped establish Freedman's Town, purchased property, and began ministering to the community. In 1868, Yates was named the first full-time preacher of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Houston's first Black baptist church. As a community leader, Yates organized Houston Academy, now Booker T. Washington High School; Bethel Baptist Church; and Houston's Emancipation Park. He died in 1897. Yates' original Houston home, the Jack Yates House, was donated to Houston's Heritage Society and first opened to the public in 1996.
Yates was born on July 11, 1828 in Gloucester County, Virginia to Robert and Rachel Yates, who were both enslaved. When Rachel became the caregiver to the owner's child, the child taught Yates to read. Yates would stash reading material when he went to work in the fields and would sneak out at night to read it. He also began attending religious gatherings of enaslaved people.
Yates' owner brought Yates on business trips where Yates learned financial basics that later enabled him to purchase his own freedom. He met and married Harriet Willis, who was enslaved on a neighboring farm.
Relocation to Texas
Following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, in order to continue enslaving his workers, Willis's owner moved his plantation to Matagorda County, Texas. Yates, a free man at the time, convinced the Willis's owner to re-enslave him so that he would not be separated from his wife and three children.
Yates and his family relocated to Galveston, Texas and were there on June 19, 1865 when General Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3. Yates's owners presented the family with two options: Stay and work for free, or leave without resistance. Yates and his family chose to leave.
Freedom and move to Houston
They relocated to Houston, Texas where Yates became a drayman. As one of the first Black freedmen in the city, he helped establish Freedman's Town, now Houston's Fourth Ward. In 1869, less than five years after his emancipation, Yates purchased property on Andrews Street where he built and designed the first two-story house in Black Houston.
On evenings and weekends, Yates preached throughout the community and conducted "horseback ministry" for Black communities within 100 miles of Houston. He began receiving attention from visiting missionaries for his literacy and ability to teach and preach.
In January 1866, a group of freedmen, with help from missionaries from the First Baptist and German Baptist churches, built a structure that would become the first worship space of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. Yates was ordained in 1868 and named the first full-time preacher of the church, which was Houston's first Black Baptist church. There, he taught community members about personal finances, literacy, carpentry and other skills.
Yates organized Houston Academy, now Booker T. Washington High School, in 1885 or 1886. He left Antioch in 1891 to establish the Bethel Baptist Church.
In 1872, while Yates was still at Antioch Missionary Baptist, the church partnered with Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church in Houston to purchase ten acres of land on Dowling Street. The intent was to provide a space for the Black community to celebrate Juneteenth  Located on what was formerly Dowling Street (now Emancipation Avenue), Emancipation Park was the first public park in Texas.
Second marriage and death
After Harriet Yates died, Yates married Annie Freeman, on October 13, 1888. They had one child. Jack Yates died on December 22, 1897 and was first buried at Olivewood Cemetery, but later reinterred at College Park Cemetery. Yates High School in Houston was named in Yates' honor in 1926.
The Jack Yates House
n 1994, Yates' home was moved from Andrews Street to Sam Houston Park in Houston and restored to its original 1870s configuration. The home was donated to Houston's Heritage Society by Yates' granddaughter, Martha Whiting The Jack Yates House was first opened to the public in December 1996.
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- ^ a b c d e f Beretto, Holly; Reid, Victoria (12 February 2021). "Recognizing A Houston Legend: Jack Yates". Downtown Houston. Archived from the original on 9 July 2022. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
- ^ a b c Lawson, Melanie (18 June 2021). "Exploring the life of Jack Yates: The true story of a Houston hero". KTRK Houston. Archived from the original on 9 July 2022. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
- ^ a b c d e Smith, Clint (2021). "Galveston Island". How the Word is Passed (1st ed.). Boston: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 199–202. ISBN 978-0316492935.
- ^ a b c Staff. "Yates House now open." Houston Chronicle. Wednesday May 11, 1996. A30. Retrieved on July 1, 2011. Archived October 21, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
- ^ a b c d e f g "John Henry "Jack" Yates". The Heritage Society. Archived from the original on 9 July 2022. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
- ^ "Third Ward's Emancipation Park designated historic landmark". Chron. Hearst. 14 November 2007. Archived from the original on 2 March 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
- ^ "Emancipation Park to receive $33 million renovation". Chron. 28 October 2013. Archived from the original on 2 March 2017. Retrieved 9 July 2022.
- ^ "Dowling Street in Houston's Third Ward renamed Emancipation Avenue". ABC 13/KHOU Houston. 19 June 2017. Archived from the original on 7 June 2018. Retrieved 17 July 2022.
- Yates, Rutherford B. H. and Paul L. Yates. The Life and Effort of Jack Yates. Texas Southern University Press, 1985.