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Fourth Ward Dig Moves Into New Phase

Archeologists are carefully digging in the shadow of Downtown Houston, trying to unlock the secrets of a 17-acre plot of land on the edge of historic Freeman’s Town in the Fourth Ward. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, the project could determine if the Houston School District will build two new campuses there. It’s […]

Archeologists are carefully digging in the shadow of Downtown Houston, trying to unlock the secrets of a 17-acre plot of land on the edge of historic Freeman’s Town in the Fourth Ward. As Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams reports, the project could determine if the Houston School District will build two new campuses there.

It’s one of the largest urban African-American archeological projects ever in Houston in a part of the city that’s rich with black history. A specialized backhoe is digging long trenches about five feet wide, the starting point for archeologist Dr. Fred McGee. It’s his job to oversee the dig, specifically to see if the land is actually an old African-American cemetery before HISD builds new schools there. “This is a unique opportunity and I’m glad the district really embraces this opportunity to do a lot of different things at once, archeologically, but also from a community outreach perspective,” he says.

As McGee’s team enters what’s known as the “manual” phase of the dig, archeologists and volunteers are coming across evidence that the land was once an active neighorhood and a significant part of Houston’s African-American roots. They’ve found nails, bricks, foundations, bottles and other artifacts that are typical for once-active community.

The school project has been held-up for several years because of concerns within the Fourth Ward Community that there’s a long-rumored old cemetery on the land, something that would likely change the school district’s plans to build there. McGee says so far there’s no evidence the cemetery exists. “I would say that if we don’t find them over the next few weeks, I can say with a good degree of confidence that there is no cemetery here,” he says.

McGee, who is one of the few African-American archeologists in Texas and a longtime Fourth Ward community activist, says there’s no guarantee burial plots won’t be found later if construction proceeds. He says officials have gone out of their way to do the project right way.

The manual portion of the project should be complete at the end of the month.

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