Audio Tour of Emancipation Park and Dowling Street

Dublin Core


Audio Tour of Emancipation Park and Dowling Street


This 9-minute audio tour, prepared by undergraduate students at Rice University in 2011, was made to be heard while visiting Emancipation Park and Dowling Street in Houston's Third Ward.


Alex Honold
Elizabeth Shulman
Jocelyn Wright

Date Created



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons-Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Is Referenced By






Sound Item Type Metadata



Welcome to the podcast: Dowling at Emancipation Park. In this podcast we will be showing you around Emancipation Park: describing its origins, its historical significance, and the controversial stamp of Dowling’s Confederate legacy on the Park. If you approach Emancipation Park from the East, you will come across the corner of Dowling and Tuam Street. As you may recall from our previous podcast, Tuam is the town in Ireland where Dowling was born. Following the end of the Civil War, these two streets were named in commemoration of Dowling, partly for his role as a Houston entrepreneur, but most notably for his role as a Confederate hero. Intersecting with Elgin’s and Hutchinson Street, Dowling and Tuam Street create the border for the 500,000 square foot park, known as Emancipation Park. If you are driving and wish to stop to walk around, you will find a parking by the Community Center located next to the pool on Dowling Street…located just a couple hundred feet from the intersection of Dowling and Tuam. Once you are at the parking lot, please be sure to read the Emancipation Park historical marker facing the front of the lot.


Emancipation Park is a located in Houston’s historic Third Ward. Although the ward system has not been used for city government administration since the early 1900’s, many of Houston’s Historic Six Wards still have distinguished demographic patterns, as well as unique historical and cultural experiences. Before the early 20th century, the population of the Third Ward was divided equally between the black population, which was segregated to the north of Truxillo Street, and the white population, which lived in the Southern half of the Ward. However, following World War Two, the Third Ward became a predominantly African American neighborhood during a metropolitan phenomenon known as “White Flight.” White flight is characterized by the mass out-migration of whites from a previously interracial neighborhood, usually located close to the inner-city. Segregated from the often antagonistic and sometimes violent white segregationists, the Third Ward became a haven for African American institutions and culture, hosting famous musicians and political activists. However, during the Civil Rights movement, the Third Ward was often targeted by the police for harboring Black activist groups like the People’s Party II. For many Black Houstonians, the Third Ward is a celebrated and culturally rich hub. Ezell Wilson, a historian and third Ward resident views the heritage of his neighborhood proudly. He remarks that since former slaves settled the third Ward, the “Black community made many strides towards building a cohesive community in an era of exclusion”—a true tale of what he calls “achievement and self reliance.”

Emancipation Park itself was created from land purchased in 1872 by the freedman Rev. Jack Yates and other former slaves. Aside from the desire to create a community park, the land was bought mainly for the purpose of establishing a place to celebrate “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth is a black heritage holiday that is celebrated on June 19th, the day in 1865 when emancipation was announced in Texas. Following its early freedmen roots, Emancipation Park and Dowling Street became a major hub for Black culture and organizations. Built in 1939, and situated right across from Emancipation Park, is the historic El Dorado Ballroom. You can reach this site by walking to the long side of the park with the jungle gym. Looking across the street, you should see a white painted building with a yellow sign that reads, “No lie can live forever.” This concert hall was a regular stop for iconic black musicians, hosting numerous icons like Cab Calloway, Nat “King” Cole, and Ray Charles. This was an important stop on what was known as the Chitlin’ Circuit, a name given to music venues that were safe for black musicians to perform during the era of segregation. Next, walk to the corner of Dowling and Tuam and continue one block down Dowling Street, you will arrive at what is known as the famous 2800 Dowling block.


It was at this spot that a local Third Ward black activist, named Carl Hampton was gunned down by the Houston Police on July 26, 1970. In the previous years, Hampton was the leader of a Black Panther organization called The People’s Party II. If you follow Dowling Street two more blocks down, you will find a fairly nondescript law office adjacent to white washed crematorium building. This office building, the office of the black activist Eldreway Stearns, served as the headquarters to Hampton and the Peoples Party II during the Civil Rights movement. The memory of Hampton is still strong in this community. Annual gatherings, candle light vigils, and film showings take place on the 2800 Dowling block to remember Hampton and his legacy. Although there is no statue of Dick Dowling on Dowling or Tuam Street, there is a small, metallic marker on a concrete base at the 2800 Dowling Street to commemorate Carl Hampton.

It is clear that Emancipation Park, Tuam and Dowling Street were the locations of some of the most historically significant events in Houston black history.


At the same time Emancipation Park is important to African American history in Houston, Dowling and Tuam Street are markers of celebrated Confederate history as well. However, this brings up two important questions about Dowling’s legacy and the black community: How were enslaved blacks involved and effected by the Battle of Sabine Pass and how do blacks in the Third Ward reconcile that legacy with the immovable presence of Dowling and Tuam Street? First of all, it is clear that enslaved blacks were conscripted to assist the Confederacy in the Battle of Sabine Pass. Although they were not used as soldiers, hundreds of slaves were forced to build Fort Griffin to protect Dowling and his Davis Guard. Although many white Southerners praise Dowling and his guard for their bravery and shrewdness in defeating the federal forces, few know, or recognize, the importance of black slaves in facilitating Confederate victory. Contrary to popular belief, Dowling did not command a mud built, jury-rigged fortress, rather Fort Griffin was well constructed building, erected by the sweat and toil of hundreds of slaves. Furthermore, many disregard the context of slavery on the battle itself. It must be remembered that the Battle of Sabine Pass was fought just over eight months after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Had the federal forces taken Sabine Pass in September, 1863, it is likely that the hundreds of thousands of slaves, slaves who were largely concentrated in East Texas, would have been liberated by federal forces. Just across Sabine River [in Louisiana], there were large black communities liberated by the Union forces. It is clear that the importance of emancipation and the Civil Rights Movement to the black community of the Third Ward (and throughout Houston) has greatly altered the perception of the historical marker of Dowling and Tuam Street. To black Houstonians, the corner of Dowling and Tuam is the epicenter of black history in the Third Ward. The local hero on Dowling Street is not Lt. Dick Dowling, it is Carl Hampton. Given the historical context of civil rights and the oppressive goals of the Confederacy, Dowling Street stands in direct contrast with the park’s goal of commemorating the abolition of slavery. Although there is nothing visually remarkable about the spot where Emancipation Park meets the corner of Tuam and Dowling Street, this place is symbolic of the clash between how black Houstonians view Dowling’s legacy versus how white southerners view his legacy.



9 minutes, 25 seconds