In 1907, my great grandfather William Abner Wilson, a Houston developer, broke ground on a master planned community named Woodland Heights located just a few miles from downtown Houston. His development plan included modern infrastructure and technologies such as underground utilities that would change the way communities would be developed for the next century. The community even included its own streetcar (trolley rail) connecting Woodland Heights to downtown Houston. The community covenants were very restrictive, defining the size and specifications for the homes.
Unfortunately, he overstepped the boundaries of a visionary developer by placing restrictive covenants that not only influenced how people would live, but also who could live in Woodland Heights: only whites; he excluded blacks and other ethnic groups. It was a time of prevalent racial segregation throughout Texas.
In 1908, black families began to move to an area two miles from Woodland Heights. They appropriately named the community Independence Heights. In 1915 the community incorporated, making history as the first African American municipality in the state. The citizens of Independence Heights voted in 1929 to dissolve their city in order to become a part of Houston in hopes of receiving more services such as paved roads and better plumbing.
The result was a divided Houston, two neighborhoods separated by only two physical miles in distance, but which were worlds apart. There was the white community with its modern infrastructure (people that “have”) and the black community without it (people that “have-not”). These communities remained divided for the next century by unequal infrastructure and services.
The Next 100 Years