"The Reservation": from Black Neighborhood to Red-Light District, 1865-1917

Brian Riedel, Rice University

The City of Houston, Texas created a formal red-light district in 1908 colloquially dubbed "the reservation" on land it claimed held “only a few Negro huts.” When the city dissolved it in 1917, newspapers wondered who would use buildings formerly occupied by prostitutes. Most scholarship on the red-light district privileges Anglo narratives. Before the 1908 ordinance, however, the area was part of a thriving Black neighborhood called Freedmantown – the first place in the city limits where emancipated slaves were allowed to purchase land. How did Freedmantown's residents and property owners respond to the red-light district? How did the red-light district affect Freedmantown? This paper describes a digital humanities project that reads the dominant archive from below, using ArcGIS and Story Maps to reorganize census data, city directories, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, and deed records created between the Civil War and World War I.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 187. Surfacing History from Below: Race and the Digital Humanities