Cultural Landmarks & Celebrations
Waco is home to numerous events and locations that are special to its African American community.
Though the historic buildings no longer stand, Bridge Street remains an important part of Waco’s history. Not only did it provide a place for Waco’s African American community to engage in commerce in the heart of downtown, but it also served as a communal gathering place in which respite from prejudice and segregation could be found during the mid-20th century. Construction currently underway aims to revitalize this stretch of Waco's history. New apartment complexes, hotels, restaurants, and a community-designed plaza adjacent to both downtown and Elm Avenue will serve as a point of connection between these booming districts.
GHOLSON HEIGHTS & SHARONDALE NEIGHBORHOODS
Home for many African Americans in Waco took on a new meaning with the introduction of the two planned housing additions for East Waco in the 1950s and ’60s, according to the book African-American Heritage in Waco, Texas, by Dr. Garry H. Radford Sr.
The Gholson Heights and Sharondale additions were a welcome change for African Americans, who wanted the advantages of a planned neighborhood and high-quality homes with modern conveniences. In the mid-1940s, the availability of quality housing for African Americans was virtually unattainable, and segregation prevented access to much housing. The Gholson Heights addition was a dream put in force by Van Pell Evans, then public relations director at Paul Quinn College. Evans also assisted in organizing the first Negro Chamber of Commerce in Waco and served as the real estate agent who helped develop the Gholson Heights and Sharondale additions. Evans Drive, the connecting street between the two neighborhoods, was named in his honor. Aided by the Federal Housing Administration, the Gholson Heights Addition was built in 1956 followed by its sister neighborhood Sharondale Addition in 1966. Gholson Heights featured more than 70 homes and represented the example of gracious living, Radford wrote. Sharondale featured five streets — all named for internationally acclaimed African American singers and musicians — and more than 100 quality homes.
Born and raised in Waco, Doris Miller was the first African- American to be awarded the Navy Cross for his bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Highlighted for his heroics in the Academy Award-nominated film Pearl Harbor, Doris Miller is honored locally through the memorial located on the Brazos River banks in East Waco, the neighboring community center and the nearby YMCA. A true testament to the bravery of African-Americans who fought for this country in World War II despite the adverse treatment they received at home, Doris Miller, will forever represent Waco's best.
On June 19, 1865, news of Black emancipation from slavery made its way to Texas. This day became known as Juneteenth, an American holiday that originated in communities in the South. Waco’s annual Juneteenth Weekend Extravaganza is the largest celebration of African American heritage in Waco, drawing a diverse crowd from across the Central Texas region and beyond to celebrate the importance of health, family, and creative identity in Black communities. The Juneteenth Extravaganza includes a parade, gospel celebration, vendor market, and scholarship pageant.
Formerly home to Paul Quinn College, the oldest of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the state of Texas, Quinn Campus at 1020 Elm Avenue is a staple of the Waco African American community. The campus serves as a reminder of its vibrant past and as a glimpse into the promising future for the site and the community. Quinn Campus is home to a collective of entities working together to further the East Waco community, including the Cen-Tex African American Chamber of Commerce, the Doris Miller YMCA, Rapaport Academy, and the Waco multi-purpose center.
Visit wacohistory.org for more African American cultural landmarks within Waco.