Unearthing Black histories with Debra Blacklock-Sloan, Harris County Historical Commission member

01 Mar, 24

As an elementary schooler, Debra Blacklock-Sloan didn’t see people who looked like her in the school’s curriculum. 

She learned in-depth about the famed Christopher Columbus who purportedly discovered the nation, and the fight for Texas independence at the Battle of the Alamo. Yet, she learned only briefly about the history of slavery and of the first person killed in the American Revolution, Crispus Attucks, a sailor of mixed African and Indigenous ancestry. 

Beyond this representation and the brief mentioning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade she read in her school’s textbooks, Blacklock-Sloan said she didn’t see herself reflected as a Black person in the state and local Houston history she learned. 

Now, as a member of the Harris County Historical Commission, Blacklock-Sloan is on a mission to document the African American experience in Harris County and Texas.  

A passionate pursuit of the forgotten  

Blacklock-Sloan's Black teachers instilled a love for history in her at an early age, stoking a passion to document the lost stories and history of Black Americans’ triumphs and struggles.  

She carried this passion into adulthood, landing a position as a historical researcher with the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum Inc. in Freedmen’s Town. It was there she realized how poorly documented and excluded Black local experiences were from her education and the history of the city.  

Blacklock-Sloan said as a student at Phillis Wheatley High School — a school in Fifth Ward which opened for Black students in 1927 and later desegregated— she wasn't taught about local Black leaders.  

“I finished from Phillis Wheatley High School, and I didn’t know that Jack Yates was Black,” Blacklock-Sloan said. “I didn’t know that he was a real person until my 40s, and I was thinking ‘why didn’t I know this?’ So, to be in a position to research local history for  the Rutherford B.H. Hates Museum Inc. was just an eye-opener for me.”  

To further excavate the Black presence in local and state history, Blacklock-Sloan embarked on a decades-long career as an avid preservationist, historical researcher, and genealogist. She eventually started her own business, Ebony Ancestry Genealogy, to help reconnect Black residents with the poorly documented and forgotten history of their long-lost enslaved ancestors. 

“One of my main things is that I want [Black people] to be proud. [Even though] Africans were captured, smuggled on [slave] ships, and were sold, there’s a resilience of that,” Blacklock-Sloan said.  

Blacklock-Sloan expressed how her genealogy research has helped clients identify health issues such as hypertension and diabetes that have long affected their families. She emphasized that she enjoys connecting people to their lost heritage because it has the potential to address health disparities that disproportionately affect the Black community.  

Preserving the past as a way to the future 

Blacklock-Sloan has been instrumental in helping erect over 30 lynching monuments and markings across Texas. Her genealogy workshops and tours have encouraged hundreds of Black Americans to invest in researching the truth of their families and the places they call home.  

As she continues her work excavating the Black presence in local and state history, Blacklock-Sloan anticipates a future in which everyone works toward acknowledging the complex racial past of Harris County and Texas.  

“It’s important to preserve and acknowledge what our ancestors did in this city, this state, this country, and not omit it.” Blacklock-Sloan said.  

To create the framework for a more inclusive narrative of historical truth and collective understanding, Blacklock-Sloan said she hopes the world will openly say that people of African descent contributed heavily to the founding of this country. 

“That’s what I want people to realize more than anything — to tell the truth,” Blacklock-Sloan said. 


Precinct 4 highlighted the lives and accomplishments of several Black residents in Harris County as part of a celebration of Black History Month. Be sure to read previous stories on Houston Ballet’s first Black principal Ballerina, Lauren Anderson; Alvin Wright and his relentless pursuit to uncover the past of a historic church; and Casey Castro, owner and chef At Astor Farm to Table, a Katy restaurant serving South African and Latin American cuisine.