Rediscovering the Rich History of Precinct 4's McGee Chapel

26 Feb, 24

Pushing through the brush of an overgrown prairie near Addicks Reservoir, Alvin Wright wondered how he ended up scouring the woods for decades-old graves with a man he had never met before.  

“I’m thinking, ‘this guy could kill me out here,’” Wright said, reflecting on the 1990s adventure. “I don’t know this guy from Adam, but we went out there, and I was able to find some grave markers of members who used to belong to McGee Chapel.” 

A longtime member of McGee Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, Wright found himself at the front of the search to uncover the church’s history. As a former associate TV producer and city employee, he had connections with local news stations and a history of navigating local government – attributes other church members thought made Wright uniquely positioned to tell the church’s story.   

Armed with their encouragement and the church’s brief written history, Wright set out to uncover and preserve Black history. 

“A lot of Black history gets lost because one, people don't want to remember the pain of the past; two, they don’t want to talk about bad times; and three, they want to focus on moving ahead,” Wright said. “But there's a phrase that says you can't move forward until you remember where you've been. How far we've come is important, especially when you're talking to young people.” 

When Wright launched his research, he worked for the Houston Police Department, which was conveniently located near the Harris County Courthouse. Wright spent his lunch hours researching and sorting through documents. Soon, he unearthed the detail that would reveal a history richer than the congregation had imagined. 

The documents Wright found showed that the church’s namesake, David McGee, was a freed slave. It was a discovery that catapulted his interest in the church’s story. 

More than 150 years of history 

In 1869, David McGee purchased 370 acres of land in Harris County, according to the church's history page. This land eventually came to be known as “McGee’s Settlement,” and members would routinely host worship services and pray together in each other’s homes.  

Eventually, the group became large enough that they needed an official chapel to gather. The chapel was built in 1912 off Goar Road, and descendant of David McGee, Rev. P.A. McGee, became the first pastor.  

In his interviews with church elders, Wright learned that the church was previously located on Goar Road in the 1940s, which, by the 1990s, no longer existed. Further investigation showed Goar Road was once near what is now the intersection of Briar Forest and Eldridge Parkway – only two miles from where McGee Chapel currently stands.  

For just under a decade, parishioners had to cross fields and private property to attend services. When it rained, they were faced with the choice of missing service or having to make the trek through knee-deep mud. The members soon voted to move the church to a more accessible location. 

The moving process was intense, Wright said. Congregation members did not have access to moving equipment or roads during the church’s relocation. 

"They don't have cranes. There's no heavy mechanism,” Wright said. “These are Black folk. They got nothing. They use logs and create sleds. They put this house on these logs, and roll this house along these logs, and put the log in front, and do it again, and do it again. They had to go through a lot of mud and lot of fields to get the church where it is right now.” 

The church had been a distribution point for food, medicine, and clothes. Above all else, the church was -- and continues to be -- a community gathering place. 

In 1996, Wright, along with a few other church members, compiled their research into a book. Three decades later, Wright and other church members are starting another edition. This new volume will cover the history of the church from 1996 to today.  

Wright said he hopes that both the new book and the original help church and community members recognize and honor the history of the chapel and all those who built its legacy. 

“We want to make sure that people understand and remember that this is not something that you see in some kind of a movie — this was real life,” Wright said. “Hopefully people will understand the richness of our church, the heritage of our church, and what we stand for and carry it on.”