The commission will serve as an advisory board to aid in the identification, recognition and preservation of African American cultural heritage in Harris County.
Tanya Debose, executive director of the Independence Heights Redevelopment Council, said an entity is needed to take stock of the county’s cultural and historical assets as they pertain to African American heritage.
“In every one of the precincts that the commissioners cover, there are places where African Americans settled after the Civil War, places people don't even know about,” Debose said. “Our families came [from] out of those areas. [The Harris County African American Cultural Heritage Commission wants] to ... preserve some of that history, but also use it to inform the future, so that people will know the contributions of African Americans in Harris County.”
Founded in 1889 by freedman Harrison Barrett, Barrett Station is currently facing challenges in preserving the town’s history and culture due to recent growth, according to Barrett Station resident and descendant Melanie Fontenot. Fontenot said a commission dedicated to African American heritage would help the town deal with those challenges.
“Growth is a really good thing, but ... it's critical now that we [ramp] up our efforts in preserving [Barrett Station’s] heritage,” Fontenot said. “The way we do that is to be a part of commissions such as the one that we're asking [commissioners court] to support.”
Supporters also advocated cultural tourism as a potential source of funding for the proposed commission. Dolores Rodgers, who serves on the Emancipation Economic Development Council board, said Harris County’s rich historical heritage could be further utilized by the African American Cultural Heritage Commission in attracting outside visitors.
“We have a lot of jewels in our community,” Rogers said. “Preserving the history, culture, in our county is an economic advantage that we need to take better advantage of. A commission focusing on that, and leveraging that history, is very important.”
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said next steps for the commission’s formation will include a review by the Harris County attorney. Further discussion on its feasibility and creation will follow.
“Part of the beauty of this is [the African American Cultural Heritage Commission] has really been driven by [community members], which is important and ... that’ll lead to an even better result,” Hidalgo said.