While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Olee Yates McCullough
Jack Yates
Reverend John Henry (Jack) Yates. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Antioch Missionary Baptist Church
Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, Houston. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Emancipation Park
Jack Yates with a group in Emancipation Park. Courtesy of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center and the Houston Chronicle. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

YATES, JOHN HENRY [JACK] (1828–1897). John Henry (Jack) Yates, slave and minister, son of slaves Robert and Rachel Yates, was born in Gloucester County, Virginia, on July 11, 1828. When Rachel's mistress, Mrs. Fields, died, Rachel was given the task of caring for the Fields child, who eventually taught Jack how to read, although to do so was illegal. Jack took his reader, Bible, and songbook to the field with him and would steal out at night and read by the light of a pine knot. He made small amounts of money from fishing. When he was a young man he attended the slaves' religious gatherings and was converted. He married Harriet Willis, of a neighboring farm; they had eleven children. When Harriet's master moved to Matagorda County, Texas, about 1863, Yates, unable to bear the thought of being separated from his wife and children, begged to go along. Upon emancipation in June 1865, the Yates family went to Houston to look for work. Jack became a drayman by day and a Baptist preacher at night and on Sundays. The Home Missionary Society had sent a black man, Isaac Sydney Campbell, to do mission work among the African Americans in Texas, and Campbell, needing help, began to send Yates to hold meetings in Houston and elsewhere. This led to Yates's ordination as a Baptist preacher by Campbell and Elder J. J. Ryanhart. When Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, the first black Baptist church in Houston, was organized in 1866 by Reverend Crane, a white preacher, Yates was called as the first pastor. He and others moved the congregation to a more desirable location. Martha, Yates's oldest child, cooked for the bricklayers, carpenters, and laborers as they constructed the building. Under his leadership, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church purchased Emancipation Park on Dowling Street for the black people of Houston in 1872. A dispute about a pay-as-you-go remodeling plan caused Yates to leave Antioch and organize Bethel Baptist Church in 1891. The queen of England visited Antioch Church on May 22, 1991.

Yates House
Yates House. Courtesy of the Heritage Society. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.
Jack Yates High School
Jack Yates High School, 1927. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

In 1869 Yates bought several lots on what is now Andrews Street, where his house still stands; he thus became a homeowner less than five years after his emancipation. He was instrumental in organizing the first Baptist association for blacks in Houston, the Old Land Mark Association, which exists today. Under the direction of two white missionaries, Jennie L. Peck and Florence Dysart, Yates organized Houston Academy, a school for black children, in 1885. He tried unsuccessfully to have Bishop College located in Houston, and then assisted in placing it in Marshall. After Harriet Yates died, Yates married Annie Freeman, on October 13, 1888; they had one child. Yates died on December 22, 1897. Jack Yates High School in Houston was named in his honor in 1926.

Jack Yates Marker
Rev. John Henry "Jack" Yates Historical Marker in front of the Yates family plot at College Memorial Park Cemetery. Courtesy of the Montrose Management District. Image available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.

Yates's son Willis bought farmland and may have been the only black man in Harris County during the latter part of the 1880s to buy, own, and operate a steam cotton gin. He also operated a small store. Rutherford, another son, was raised by white missionaries and received his A.B. degree from Bishop College. He was a teacher and founder of Yates Printing Company of Houston, now in Austin. He was coauthor of The Life and Efforts of Jack Yates, published by Texas Southern University Press in 1985. His brother and coauthor Paul graduated from Prairie View A&M and taught at Houston Academy. Yates's daughter Maria did mission work around the country. Five of Yates's other children taught school. In 1994 John Henry Yates's home was moved from Andrews Street to Sam Houston Park in Houston and restored to its original 1870s configuration. The home was donated by his granddaughter, Mrs. Whiting, and is available for tours through the Harris County Heritage Society.


Rutherford B. H. Yates, Sr., and Paul L. Yates, The Life and Efforts of Jack Yates (Houston: Texas Southern University Press, 1985).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Olee Yates McCullough, "YATES, JOHN HENRY [JACK]," accessed July 08, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fya07.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on August 2, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...