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Visual Art

Photographer Turns A Source Of Debate Into His Source Of Inspiration

The Freedmen’s Town Documentary Project focuses on preserving a fading part of Houston’s history.


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Ferrell Phelps
Photographer Ferrell Phelps with several photographs included in his Freedmen’s Town Documentary Project.

In one of Ferrell Phelps' photographs, a muscular African-American man dressed in tattered clothing is on his hands and knees. His face shows anguish as he crawls across the ground paved with red bricks.

"Basically, in this image, you're just seeing the struggle to hold on to the bricks, which is one of the few remaining remnants in the Freedmen's Town community," says Ferrell Phelps, the creator of the Freedmen's Town Documentary Project.

The collection of photos reimagines scenes from the neighborhood since its founding in the 19th century. Some of the characters are dressed as slaves, but others are in mid-20th century attire reminiscent of the Civil Rights era. The inspiration came after the push to preserve the brick-paved streets in the Fourth Ward a couple of years ago.

Phelps has a personal connection to Freedmen's Town; his great grandparents lived just behind it. Recreating scenes of history is his way of preserving it.

"It's a very interesting story," he says. "Through the gift of photography, I wanted to chronicle life as it was for those former slaves because so much of the community is gone."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner attended the project's recent unveiling at the Ensemble Theatre in Midtown. He announced that the exhibit is going to be one of the city's featured tourist attractions during Super Bowl 2017.

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