Mayor Turner outlines plan to restore historic bricks in Freedmen's Town

By Lea Wilson - Digital News Editor

HOUSTON - Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Thursday that work will begin to restore bricks that were removed in Freedmen's Town Historic District.

The city said the bricks were mistakenly removed on Nov. 21 by a city contractor during construction.

“This area holds so much historic significance for Houston’s African American community,” Turner said. “These brick streets were laid by freed slaves, and it made me sick to learn they had been disturbed in this unauthorized manner.  We cannot undo what has been done, but we can move forward to repair the damage.”

Members of the Freedmen's Town preservation group were called around 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 21 and told that workers were tearing up the brick covered street at Andrews and Genesse near Midtown.

VIDEO: Mayor Turner announces restoration plan in Freedmen's Town

The group said some of the bricks had been hauled away, others were damaged, and some were left behind, intact.

"My heart dropped," said Dorris Ellis-Roberts, the president of the Freedmen's Town Preservation Coalition. "I mean, I didn't want to cry. My heart is aching, for us not to understand the importance of the legacy."

The city said that at the time of construction, the intersection of Genesee and Andrews Streets was being prepared for the reinstallation of historic bricks that had been removed by hand to complete drainage work. The employee operating the machinery mistakenly disturbed others bricks that were not part of the hand removal. It is believed that approximately 200 bricks were removed, the city said.

Beginning Monday, contractors will remove additional bricks to create a straight edge and transition from the existing bricks to the reinstalled bricks.  They will be cleaned, cataloged and stored. The contractor will then prepare the base, set the forms and pour the concrete foundation for the brick reinstallation. The final step will be reinstallation of the bricks. 

An archeologist will be onsite to oversee the project and document the work. Once the bricks have been reinstalled, there will be no construction traffic along Genesee for the duration of the drainage work.

Turner also announced that a group of stakeholders will work with the city to develop a plan for a cultural district in the Freedmen’s Town area. He said he envisions a project similar to the historic districts in Tyler, Savannah, Georgia, Wilmington, Delaware and other cities where brick and cobblestone streets are a focal point but on a smaller scale. Turner’s timeline for putting together a plan is about six months.

“The story of Houston’s African American community begins right here in Freedmen’s Town. This is where freed slaves came to settle once word of emancipation finally made its way to Texas,” Turner said. “It was a neighborhood filled with churches, businesses and homes – 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.”

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