Houston's Freedmen

The Gregory Institute: The Cornerstone of Houston’s Freedmen’s Town

Gregory School Faculty
Frank Schlueter / 1921

Pinkie Yates, daughter of Reverend Jack Yates, is standing in the white shirt directly under the “1921.” Houston’s Heritage Society has an awesome biography written about her here.

The Gregory Institute was founded in 1870 and named after Union officer, Edgar Mantlebert Gregory. He was an outspoken abolitionist and spent his pre-war life helping enslaved people flee to Canada.

After the war, he worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau in Texas (tough gig) and advocated for emancipation and Reconstruction. He traveled across Texas pushing for improved labor rights and oversaw the construction of Black schools and churches.

Edgar Mantlebert Gregory
Unknown photographer / Civil War

Mr. Gregory did have a few quirks but he was a great human being during a time where it was much easier (and safer) not to be. He deserves more recognition for his work and every Southern history book should have a mandatory a 2-page spread telling his story, but I’ll digress.

Houston’s Freedmen’s Town, built by the formerly enslaved, was the perfect place for a school of his namesake. It officially opened in 1872 as the first Black public elementary school in Houston. For many decades, it was also the only elementary school for Black children to attend.

Even though it was considered an “elementary” school, The Gregory Institute educated Freedmen’s Town residents of all ages, quickly becoming the cornerstone of the neighborhood.

1903 Re-Construction of The Gregory Institute

The Gregory Institute had three renditions, built in 1870, 1903, and 1926 respectively. The 1926 construction is still standing in Houston’s Freedmen’s Town today.

The 1926 Construction of The Gregory Institute with 2009 renovations visible in the front

If you want to read more about The Gregory School’s history, you can read this Houston History Magazine PDF here. Otherwise, enjoy the photos of several Gregory Institute classes and their teachers below.

Gregory Institute 6th grade class / 1905
The teacher on the left is Pinkie Yates
Gregory School class of 1921
Frank Schlueter / 1921
3rd grade class / 1905
The teacher is Nellie Johnson
The little boy holding the sign is Emile Fonsworth
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