A love For History
By: Chelsea Davis-Bibb, Ed.D.
A sixth generation Texan, Debra Blacklock-Sloan was born in the historic community Fifth Ward. She recalled how growing up in her community was “one of the best times” of her life. She attended Phyllis Wheatley High School and was a graduate of the proud class of 1974.
After high school, she attended the University of Houston for a little bit, worked a few different jobs before she landed in the Aldine Independent School District (AISD) as a Librarian Assistant in 1995. She loved this job as she had the chance to interact and work with students. She also enjoyed seeing them graduate, move on and go do great things. “It was one of the greatest jobs I had,” she stated.
She stayed in AISD for ten years before she received an offer to do historical research with Rutherford B H Yates Museum (RBHY) in Freedman’s Town. “Of course, I jumped right on it. I didn’t want to leave because I loved working for the district, but once I got hired, I knew that this is what I’m supposed to do.” She further stated, “It’s true what they say, if you love what you do and you’re passionate about it, it’s not work, and it’s never felt like work to me.”
Blacklock-Sloan has always had a passion for reading and a love for history. Even in elementary school, she recalled how the librarians would always get her to be their helpers. As a child, she also saw her father with a little paperback book in the back of his pocket, and when he put it down, she would read it and look up any words she did not know. “He instilled my love for reading and didn’t even know it.”
In addition to doing historical research, Blacklock-Sloan is a family genealogist. The RBHY Museum owns several historic homes and Blacklock-Sloan was able to research who lived there, how long they lived there, and what they did for a living. “I found out that most of those folks did some pretty wonderful things. Most of them had been enslaved and for the accomplishments that they did, it’s a story of persistence and determination.” She further mentioned how a lot of the things she’s been learning at the museum were not in her textbooks when she was in school stating, “When I got hired on at the museum, I got to see the history of Houston and see the African American footprint in Houston… none of that was in the books at all.”
It has been 20 years for Blacklock-Sloan, and she is still learning more and more things about Freedmen’s town and about the history of Houston. “Theres always some fascinating facet about the African American footprint. What those people did once they were emancipated, how they came to Houston and how they wanted to assimilate in white America. It did not happen right away, but the fact that they were able to maintain and do the things they did, that’s a great story and it is so relevant when I think about it, “she expressed.
When reflecting on African American history, she mentioned how it has been “omitted, diminished, and stolen.” She believes “we should teach our children the real history of Houston. Without slavery, this country would not have developed as fast. You can’t talk about how Houston or how the state of Texas evolved and just omit slavery. We need to talk about what happened, we need to talk about slavery, what happened after slavery. We need to tell our children the history of their ancestors whether they did something great or not and tell our story and not let anyone else tell it for us as they’ve been doing it.”
Blacklock-Sloan also received the opportunity to place the historical markers in Acres Homes. “I was hungry to hear that history, and it’s a rich history. People call me a historian, but I am a lover of history,” she stated.
There is a lot of history that many people are not aware of, and she made it known how important it is that we document and preserve our historic communities and resources. In addition, she strongly encourages people to research their family history, and have their DNA taken to find out their history and tell their story. “You really need to find out who your ancestors are because it is going to explain a lot about how you look, and what you’re doing for a living.”
Blacklock Sloan is currently the Historical Research Director and Tour Director for the RHBY Museum. She also has a Touring Texans Bus Company, created in 2014, which travels to African American sites in the South and DC. She is also a part of the Harris County Historical Commission, the Harris County African American Cultural Heritage Commission, and the Afro American Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc. (Willie Lee Gay H-Town Chapter).
In closing she stated, “We inherit our traits and our characteristics from our ancestors. When you find your ancestors, you find yourself. Do your family history, create your family tree, and spread it to anyone who will listen.”