HOUSTON – Taxpayers spend thousands of dollars in property taxes, but when it comes to facing elected officials and have them listen seriously to issues important to the community, “You have 1-minute and 1-minute only” to state your business in the Land of Oz.
Speakers came forward, but it became obvious and fully clear that 1-minute was simply not enough time for any taxpaying citizen to state his or her case or express reasons or concerns for protecting decades of Black history that is now in danger of being erased by Mayor Annise Parker and the Houston City Council.
The legacy of what took years of labor and sweat to build and that was constructed with hard earned money and by the hands sons and daughters of slaves is being rudely trampled on by officials in the name of Anglo-American greed and progress.
The Freedmen’s Town Coalition is petitioning the City of Houston to use preservative rather than restorative methods when revamping historic Andrews and Wilson Streets in Freedman’s Town/Fourth Ward – a request that appears to fall on deaf ears, especially since citizens only have 1-minute to talk about why it is important to preserve African-American history.
“We hope you consider the work and sweat of ex-slaves who put together their nickels, dimes and quarters together the do this,” said New Zion Temple Pastor John Tate. “This is a forgotten part of our history and we hope you care enough to preserve and restore it.”
It appears that preserving Black history is just not the priority of the elected officials on this council.
District C Ellen Cohen let citizens know of her lack of compassion for Black history by blaming residents about street decay and reminding the groups how insignificant it is to her – an it is her own district she represents.
“The streets are in deplorable condition…people are even taking the bricks,” she said. “…We also have storm sewers, water piping and electrical lines, roads and sidewalks to repair. That’s the balance we face.”
To freedom fighters working on the issues, nothing is more important than saving Black history and the group means business when it comes to telling the city and officials about saving the remaining elements of the Black settlement that has been slowly taken and is vanishing.
The push is for the public to know the truth and join preservation efforts and help the community by making its history a priority- something that Houston has failed miserably in doing in the past.
The coalition’s goal is to:
1. Stop the removal of the undisturbed historic bricks and the remaining trolley rails, from all of Andrews Street and part of Wilson Street.
2. Engage a qualified micro-tunneling/trenchless Engineering Design firm to redesign the infrastructure installations for “avoidance of harm to the cultural resources” of the historic streets- NHPAct.
3. Reinstate the Federal 106 Review process for the amended plans and engage the appropriate “Consulting Parties” from the broader community, African Diaspora Archaeologists, Historians, and Anthropologists from the beginning to end of the process.
4. Install all new infrastructures for sani-sewer lines, water, and electric lines under sidewalk easements instead of under the streets with multiple lines and connections that will fail. Installation combinations of micro-tunneling, and other trenchless methods must be used in order to prevent the removal of bricks and trolley rails as well as to remediate flooding due to the high density new construction within Freedmen’s Town.
Citizens clearly noted that Parker and the council could be in violation of Federal 106 Reviews and the Historic Preservation Act – another fact when questioned and asked for an officials opinion by Councilman Jerry Davis and Councilman Dwight Boykins, it was brushed off by City Attorney with a “I think we are alright” on this.
The Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum and supporters are also working to try and stop the removal of the bricks. Freedmen’s Town is under the National Historical Preservation and has a marker outside the Yates Museum.
The city did not pay for one brick, but now is not listening to historians and wants to step in and dictate to African-Americans how it will treat its history.
Doris Ellis Robinson, president of Freedman’s Town group, reminded the council that 106 should not something to take lightly.
“We must preserve these streets with the best available technology,” she said. “We have to get it right. Once you destroy it, you do not get a do over.”
For citizens who stepped us a tax paying voters of Houston to be heard, it is sheer disrespect for them to be “brushed off” after one minute.
It is an insult to citizens and to Democracy to see this happen without someone being smart enough to recognize that citizens, taxpayers, former slaves and Black History deserve better.