After a surprisingly disrespectful act of negligence on the part of a city of Houston contractor, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced at a press conference last Thursday, that he would be immediately convening a group of stakeholders from the Freedmen’s Town area to work with the City to develop a plan to make the area a historical site and cultural district.
“These brick streets were laid by freed slaves and it made me sick to learn they had been disturbed in this unauthorized manner,” said Mayor Turner. “Though there have been many changes in this area, there is no reason in the midst of the new why we cannot preserve the old, the history, and, even in our own way, bring it back to life.”
Although nothing was mentioned concerning any additional penalties or punishment for this negligent act, Mayor Turner promised to fix the area that was destroyed, and said the contractor would pay for the cost of repair. Mayor Turner vowed to not only make this right under his watch, but also sought to remind Houstonians about the historical and cultural significance of the Freedmen’s Town area.
“The story of Houston’s African American community begins right here in Freedmen’s Town,” said Mayor Turner. “This area holds so much historic significance for Houston’s African American community. This is where freed slaves came to settle once word of emancipation finally made its way to Texas. It was a neighborhood filled with churches, businesses and homes. It was a place where residents provided their own services and utilities. There were blacksmiths, doctors, lawyers, teachers and pastors. There was even a vibrant jazz scene and a minor league baseball team. It’s such a wonderful story and we are going to tell it. Many of the bricks were damaged, but the soul of the people who live here, that spirit has not been damaged. We cannot undo what has been done, but we can move forward to repair the damage that has been done.”
Work began this past Monday to restore the historic Freedmen’s Town bricks, that were said to be mistakenly disturbed several weeks ago by a city contractor, BRH-Garver Construction, L.P., who, according to a statement released by the City of Houston’s Office of Public Works & Engineering, was working on an ongoing drainage improvement project along Genesee in the Fourth Ward, and had excavated a portion of the intersection at Andrews Street beyond the authorized limits of the project. At the time of the unauthorized work, which occurred while Mayor Turner was away in Mexico, the intersection of Genesee and Andrews Streets was being prepared for the reinstallation of historic bricks that had previously been removed by hand so the drainage work could proceed. It is believed that approximately 200 bricks were removed due to the negligent act of the city contractor, and additional bricks had to be removed to create a straight edge and even transition from the existing bricks to the reinstalled bricks.
According to the city, the bricks are being cleaned, cataloged and stored as required, and the contractor will then prepare the base, set the forms and pour the concrete foundation for the brick reinstallation. The final step will be the reinstallation of the bricks, where an archeologist is slated to be on site at all times to oversee everything and prepare a final report documenting all work. Once the bricks have been reinstalled, there will be no construction traffic along Genesee for the duration of the drainage work.
Mayor Turner said a major part of his plans are to make Freedmen’s Town a cultural historic district that resembles those where brick and historic cobblestone streets are a significant landmark in those neighborhoods, such as in Savannah, GA, Wilmington, DE, and other cities.
Mayor Turner says that it will take about 3 months to replace the bricks, but in the meantime, he has a timeline of six months for his newly formed committee to put together a bona fide plan that would turn Freedmen’s Town into the historical site and cultural district it should be.
“Though there have been many changes in this area and though many refer to it as Midtown, there is no reason, in the midst of the new, that we cannot preserve the old,” said Mayor Turner.
The Forward Times will be monitoring that six month timeline, as well as the repair of the disturbed brick streets by the contractor, and keep its readers abreast of any new developments.