Project Pleasantville

A Timeline of Pleasantville


Throughout its shining history, pollution has encroached on Pleasantville. It has come in floods whose waters are toxified by surrounding industrial sites, in spectacular conflagrations of unlisted chemicals, and in everyday fumes from the highways that grew up around it. And, since its earliest days, the community of Pleasantville has organized to protect itself from these hazards, from successfully advocating for enclosed sewers in the 1940s to installing its own air pollution monitor in 2019. This timeline offers a glimpse into the complex biography of this singular neighborhood, its development, its exposure to toxicity, and its vitality as a community of Black leaders.

A work in progress, this timeline is a collaborative effort between community leaders and students, researchers, and archivists to tell a story that lifts up Black civil leadership in Houston, while also laying bare the environmental racism that shapes lands and lives here.


The timeline is part of Project Pleasantville, a collaboration between Pleasantville community members Ms. Bridgette Murray (founder of ACTS) and Mr. Cleophus Sharp (ACTS volunteer), and a team of researchers, students, and archivists at Rice University, originally led by Dr. Zoë Wool and Dr. Lacy Johnson. The project also includes a growing collection of oral histories and archival materials housed at the Woodson Research Archives at Rice University, updates to the neighborhood’s Wikipedia page, a poster series, and a range of student research projects. This is a living timeline, and will be updated with new sources as Project Pleasantville continues.

Project Pleasantville founders: Bridgette Murray, Cleophus Sharp, Zoë Wool, Lacy M. Johnson.

Timeline created by: Jessica Caporusso, Sarah Swackhamer, Emma Every, and Zoë Wool, with the support of the Houston Flood Museum.

Additional research by: Portia Hopkins, Nori Guthrie, Gebby Keny, Paul Burch, Ashley Fitzpatrick, Mai Ton, Anson Tong, Maria Alejandra Mora, DeAnna Daniels, Sarah Silberman, Indya Porter, Alec Tobin, Kaitlyn Crowley, Rachel Johnson, with support from Amanda Focke and the Woodson Research Archive

Click the image above to view an interactive map of Pleasantville.

Timeline Legend

An icon that displays an atlas symbol
Neighbourhood Growth
An icon that displays a hazard symbol
Environmental Hazard
An icon that displays a handshake symbol
Community Action

Scroll down to view the timeline of Pleasantville. Click on the blue title text or image of any entry to learn more, view archival images, and hear from residents of the neighborhood.



Pleasantville Established

Pleasantville Established

Established as part of the nation-wide post-WWII housing rush, the neighborhood of Pleasantville was built on a barren piece of prairie near the port of the city of Houston. Developers wanted to offer housing and home ownership to Black families in the area, something largely unavailable due to racist policies of segregation and redlining.


Pleasantville Annexed into the City of Houston

This color coded-map shows the areas that were annexed by Houston during two of it’s major mid-20th Century annexations, one in 1949 that is coded as yellow on the map and includes Pleasantville, and another in 1956, which is coded in green. The map also shows the city’s major watersheds, White Oak Bayou, Brays Bayou, Buffalo Bayou, and Sims Bayou, as well as the Addicks dam in the far west side to give a sense of the flooding risks to these growing neighborhoods. Map by Bruce Race / CeSAR for Houston Chronicle (“How can we save Houston's mid-century modern neighborhoods?” Sept 6, 2017).

The land on which Pleasantville would be built was officially incorporated into the city of Houston as part of a larger annexation in 1949. This would have serious implications for the kinds of development and infrastructure that would impact the neighborhood, as well as the community organizing that would unfold. 


Pleasantville Apartment Projects Built

The black and white photo shows a Black woman in her living room, sitting on a couch or bed watching television. The room is well furnished, with curtains, a lamp, a telephone, and various decorations and appliances in view. The image caption lists the features of a typical Pleasantville apartment, including two bedrooms, a combination kitchen and dinette, and a tile bath. Image courtesy of Gunnar Liljequist Jr. from the Houston Chronicle (“An Answer to Slums”) dated March 1, 1953.

The Pleasantville Apartment Project, a one story complex of 297 identical two bedroom apartments, was the first part of Pleasantville to be constructed. In consultation with Mrs. Josie Robinson and her husband Judson Robinson Sr., the developers also began to build single family homes, and the apartments quickly filled with those eager to buy.


Single Family Homes Built

The image shows an illustration of a Black woman smiling, looking over a picture of a Pleasantville home, beside text that reads “I chose Pleasantville: a truly pleasant community for my family and yours… in the city limits of Houston!”. The ad communicates some of the benefits of residency in Pleasantville, including “friendly community life,” access to public transportation, and affordable housing. According to the image, at the time of its release, “1000 happy families” already lived in Pleasantville. Image is from Houston Post dated May 1, 1955.

Between 1950 and 1955 over 600 single-family homes were built in Pleasantville, advertised as “Houston’s finest, fastest growing colored housing addition” with desirable features such as knotty pine kitchens and attic fans to ensure comfort against the city’s stifling heat. Developers soon had a waiting list of Black families eager to join the growing community.


Pleasantville Elementary School founded

A photograph of Pleasantville Elementary's (HISD) facade and front entrance.

Residents of the new and flourishing community full of growing families recognized the need for a local elementary school. When their request to the Houston Independent School Board was not granted, the Civic League organized a successful campaign to convince the board of their need. A middle school would follow a few years later.


Ship Channel Flood

Shows Mrs. Caraway sweeping the water and muck from a driveway and into the still quite flooded street. Her broom creates ripples in the standing water. Behind her, the driveway still appears slick with water from the flood. The image comes from an article in the Houston Chronicle (“In the Wake of a Rainless Flood”) dated December 8, 1957.

On December 6 1957, a 10 acre containment area of the Houston Ship Channel–an industrial and petrochemical thoroughfare–ruptured in two places, flooding much of Pleasantville with up to four feet of contaminated sludge that had been previously dredged from the bottom of the ship channel and stored in a settling basin.


Interstate-10 Construction

The 1965 image shows the north, west, and south loop partially constructed, now shown with a solid red line from I-10 east to 288 in the south. The rest of the loop is roughly indicated with a double layer of dashed lines. For the first time, this map shows that there were plans to fully close the loop, as the dashed lines pass through Jacinto City on the east side of Houston. Images courtesy of Enco Oil Roadmaps, American Oil Roadmaps, and Humble Oil Roadmaps, respectively.

The construction of Interstate-10 sliced across the top of the newly built neighborhood. With the Houston Ship Channel and port to the south, Pleasantville was now sandwiched between heavy polluting infrastructures.


Forced integration leads to bussing of highschool students

This still from a 1972 newsreel shows a small yellow van-style school bus topped with red safety lights stopped at a greasy street. The back of the bus says “School Bus W-310” in large black letters. Three Black boys are exiting the school bus.

  Just as Pleasantville was being constructed, the nearest highschool, Phillis Wheatley High in neighboring 5th Ward, was undergoing a renaissance from which it would emerge as one of the best Black schools in the south. Forced integration in 1970 meant Pleasantville’s students were unwillingly re-zoned to Sam Houston High twelve miles away.


Pleasantville Apartments Rent Strike

A black and white photograph depicted several young children standing in front of an apartment in Pleasantville (Lukes Collection, Rice University)

By 1970, the condition at the Pleasantville Apartments–the first buildings in the neighborhood–had deteriorated. The management company was unwilling to make repairs and abandoned the property. Apartment residents formed the Pleasantville Committee for Community Improvement (PCCI) organizing nearly 200 tenants for a rent strike, only the second in Houston history.


Highway 610 Construction

Image is a black and white, birds-eye view of the East Loop (610) and East Freeway (I-10 East), which divide the land between residential areas (to the left) and the brewery and theme park (to the right). Image courtesy of Curtis McGee for the Houston Chronicle, originally dated February 1971.

  The 610 loop highway encircles the center of the city of Houston, hemming in Pleasantville’s eastern edge. The completion of the local portion in 1974 was a watershed event in the transformation of the neighborhood from a sparsely populated prairie to an industrial sacrifice zone.


Pleasantville Library Opens

A black and white drawing depicts the newly dedicated Pleasantville Branch of the Houston Public Library. Image appears in Talmadge and Geneva Sharp’s history of the neighborhood “Millennium Year 2000 AD and 50th-Year End Celebration of Pleasantville’s Community Growth.”

Literacy and a love of books was a key value of the community from the beginning. Residents maintained a weekly bookmobile and began advocating for a library as early as 1957. Their tireless efforts finally led to a local branch of the Houston Public Library, which opened in 1974. 


William S Holland Middle School Opens

Black and white photograph of Black and white students and teachers gathered around four grey haired white men in suits, who smile while digging into the earth with shovels.

In 1979, Pleasantville broke ground on its own middle school. The school was named for William S Holland, the beloved former principal and football coach of Jack Yeats High School who was known for his commitment to racial equality.

1995June 24th

Chemical Warehouse Ignites

Image shows 6 residents of Pleasantville, including four young boys and an adult couple, standing beside a chain link fence watching firefighters send jets of water into the blaze. Between the watchers and the fire, there is what appears to be a community garden, then the railroad tracks are visible further in the distance. One firefighter is visible on the right-hand side of the image, next to the stream of water that is shooting into the flames. The fire is orange and yellow, close to the ground, with thick black clouds of smoke obscuring the entire sky in the picture. Image is in color, courtesy of Howard Castleberry for the Houston Chronicle, dated June 24, 1995.

On the morning of June 23, 1995, a seven-alarm fire broke out in a chemical storage warehouse owned by Houston Distribution Inc. in the residential neighborhood of Pleasantville. The fire burned uncontrolled for a day while the fire department attempted to understand what chemicals were present in the warehouse and what threats they posed.

1995July 9th

Warehouse Reignites

Warehouse Reignites

Within a few weeks of the first chemical warehouse fire, an adjacent warehouse owned by the same company, Houston Distribution Inc., erupted in flames, sending more plumes of chemical smoke over the neighborhood. The second ignition was a four-alarm fire in its own right.

1995July 23rd

Warehouse Reignites

Image shows debris and rubble from the initial warehouse fires, with a cloud of dark grey smoke rising from it. In front of the destroyed warehouses, there are two fire trucks, a city bus, several trucks, and a piece of construction equipment. Several firefighters can be seen handling a hose in the back of one truck that has been used to combat the flames. Image is in color. Courtesy of Ben DeSoto for the Houston Chronicle, dated July 23, 1995.

About a month after the initial eruption, the remains of the first warehouse to burn caught fire again due to lingering hot spots in the building. This final fire was put out quickly, but it added urgency to the community’s calls for environmental protections and reform.


Pleasantville advocates for hazardous materials reform

This Houston Chronicle article, written by T.J. Milling, addresses Houston City Council's consideration of a moratorium on new hazardous waste storage facilities in the wake of the 1995 warehouse fires.

In the aftermath of the chemical warehouse fires in the summer of 1995, Pleasantville residents rallied to advocate for safety reform and exposed the extent of environmental injustice they faced every day.


Pleasantville inducted into Super Neighborhood network

Image shows a group of 17 Black Pleasantville residents (men, women, and children) gathered together, wearing formal attire. The man in the center of the image, along with the children on either side of him, are holding a city ordinance or certificate of some kind, which is framed. Presumably, this is the certificate that recognizes their existence as one of Houston’s Super Neighborhoods. In the background of the image, there is a map of Houston as well as an American flag and a Texas flag. Image courtesy of the City of Houston webpage.

 Led in large part by women in the neighborhood, Pleasantville became a “Super Neighborhood,” a designation granted to communities in the city that organize a governing council and are committed to working with the city for community improvement.


ACTS (Achieving Community Tasks Successfully) Founded

ACTS (Achieving Community Tasks Successfully) Founded

  Bridgette Murray, Pleasantville Super Neighborhood Council president and longtime activist, founded ACTS, a non-profit organization focused on community based social and environmental justice. Among other initiatives, ACTS has installed community air monitors in Pleasantville, to help residents be better informed and able to advocate for environmental justice.


Hurricane Harvey

A high angle photograph shows large above ground chemical storage tanks, rows of low metal buildings with peaked roofs, railway lines, and a sprawling tangle of other chemical processing infrastructure that stretches to the horizon. The murky water of the Houston Ship Channel edges the scene on the left side, and is seeping onto the land. Water surrounds the low metal buildings and part of the rail line is submerged. The sky is grey, and a ceiling of low lying clouds is visible across the top of the image.

On August 27th, Hurricane Harvey arrived in notoriously flood-prone Houston. In the coming days, Harvey inundated the city with nearly five feet of rain, flooding hundreds of thousands of buildings, displacing one million people, and killing 88. Pleasantville was hit hard, with chemicals from surrounding industrial sites flooding in with the rising waters.


Pleasantville receives Kellogg Foundation grant

The logo of the HBCU-CBO Gulf Coast Equity Consortium, under which ACTS received a Kellogg Foundation grant.

  ACTS receives funds from the Kellogg Foundation’s thriving children focus to support its work toward social and environmental justice. 


ACTS installs community air monitors in Pleasantville

ACTS volunteers stand in front of a truck and railroad crossing as they install an air quality monitor nearby.

ACTS partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund and Texas Southern University to install community air monitors. As part of the community-driven engagement, residents identified air pollution in the top 3 concerns. The monitors are intended to allow residents to be more informed about air quality in the neighborhood, and to support local advocacy efforts.