The Third Ward is a predominately African American community with a rich historical and cultural legacy. It is the “cradle of Houston’s civil rights movement” and the home of many notable personalities including Jazz Saxophonist Arnet Cobb, Actress/dancer Debbie Allen, NFL player Dexter Manley, Journalist Roland Martin and most recently Beyoncé Knowles. Today education, health, crime, economic issues and gentrification challenge its health.
Once described as “the city’s most diverse black neighborhood.” Wealthy and poor African Americans lived, worshipped, attended school, and shopped together. Public and elected officials, judges and lawyers, school teachers, and the working class lived in Third Ward. Post- desegregation, “flight” of the middle and upper class to the suburbs resulted in the decline of the neighborhood, the economic fortunes and the education opportunities. Crime increased. Job opportunities dwindled. School enrollment and graduation rates decreased. And the Third Ward began a slow decline.
Per the 2000 census, African Americans comprise 79%, Hispanics 10%, and other races, 11%. Of the residents ages 16 or older, 47% were either unemployed or have never been in the labor force. In 1999, nearly half – 47% – lived below the poverty level. Approximately three-fourths (72%) had incomes less than twice the poverty level. Less than half of residents ages 25 and older – 45% – reported that they had not graduated from high school. The National Fatherhood Initiative reports that one in three children in America live without their biological father in the home.
In May 2016, David Edmonson, aide to Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, wrote "Harris County sends the most people to prison and state jail -- in the state with the seventh-highest incarceration -- in the country with the highest incarceration rate." In 2014, Harris County had an incarceration rate of 796 inmates per 100,000 residents or 35,378 people who were in county jail, state jail, prison, or substance abuse facilities. It is estimated that 10% of these inmates come from the Third Ward.