The Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum in Houston’s Freedmen’s Town National Historic District was founded in 1996. The museum is the former home of Rutherford B. H. Yates, Sr. (1878–1944), a printer and educator by trade.
The museum’s origins began in 1995 when Gladys House, a resident and community activist in the Freedmen’s Town community, contacted Catherine M. Roberts, also a community activist and preservationist, about saving Rutherford’s home. The house was part of the original homestead purchased in 1869 by his father, Rev. John Henry “Jack” Yates, a formerly enslaved influential minister, educator, and civic leader in the community. The three-bedroom, one-story Queen Anne cottage located at 1314 Andrews Street and built between 1912–13 had been vacant since the mid-1980s, and Gladys House was worried that it might be torn down.
Roberts met Rutherford’s eighty-year-old daughter, Olee Yates McCullough, and a mutual friendship began. Once restoration was completed, both women envisioned Rutherford’s home as a house museum that would preserve the legacy of McCullough’s family, African-American printers, and the Freedmen’s Town community. The home was saved from demolition when Roberts purchased it after several failed attempts to find a buyer. She spent her own money restoring the structure and, under the guidance of Mrs. McCullough, preserved its architectural integrity. After restoration the museum was dedicated to the history of printing, the printed word, and art of the African Diaspora. It was incorporated as a nonprofit organization, the Rutherford B. H. Yates Museum, Inc., on December 26, 1996, and officially opened in 1997 (the year of McCullough’s death).
The mission of the Yates Museum is to promote archaeological research, preserve historic structures on original homesteads, promote education, art, printing, and the cultural history of the African Diaspora as well as provide scholarships and internships for students studying architecture, history, and science. The history of the endangered Freedmen’s Town community is a permanent exhibit which focuses on the study of objects, memories, documentation, education, and outreach.
Archaeological research is conducted by the Yates Community Archaeology Project (YCAP) and is an ongoing project conducted on all ten properties purchased by the nonprofit. The work has included archaeology field classes for three local universities, mitigation and research archaeology on Freedmen's Town properties, oral history and ethnographic research, and a wide variety of both outreach and educational activities.
The museum has partnerships with Rice University Archaeology Field School; Community Archaeology Research Institute (CARI); Gregory-Lincoln Education Center (GLEC) of the Houston Independent School District; University of Houston African-American Studies Department; Prairie View A & M University Architecture Department; Texas Southern University; Sam Houston State University History Department; Coalition of Pastoral Leaders of Freedmen’s Town (CPL); Boy and Girl Scouts, and the Texas Rose Rustlers.
In 1998 the printing museum house was the first residential structure in Freedmen’s Town to receive an official Texas Historical Marker. The house also has a National Register listing and city of Houston protected landmark designation.