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Mayor: Freedmen’s Town Bricks Will Be Put Back After Construction

Preservationists clash with city over what to do with historic street bricks.

Darrell Patterson, president of the Freedmen’s Town Association, shows me some of the brick streets in this historically black neighborhood just west of downtown Houston.

“All this is really well put,” he said. “All of these bricks are well… And this is how it should look all the way through.” 

The bricks were put in more than 100 years ago by freed slaves and their descendants, and for many in the community, they are the key element for the Fourth Ward’s historical designation.

Willie Blackman is a retired judge and advises the board of directors of the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum. His family came to Freedmen’s Town two generations ago.

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Lue Williams with the Coalition of Pastoral Leaders Freedmen’s Town, Yates Museum President Catherine Roberts and board advisor Willie Blackman (from left) stand behind a model of Freedmen’s Town.

Blackman said for him, the bricks are a source of pride.

“A pride that Africans, the descendants of African slaves, and some were slaves themselves, could build these streets and put certain type of design into them that was reminiscent of the history of where they were from of the African continent,” he said.

But for years now, a dark cloud has hung over these brick streets. The city needs to do work on water and sewage pipes, and earlier this month, City Council approved a plan to move forward.

That means the bricks will have to be moved, at least temporarily.

 “We are going to exactly pick up the bricks, clean them off and put them down,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said. “And we’re going to make every effort to keep the same pattern to the bricks.” 

But that’s not acceptable for Catherine Roberts, co-founder of the Yates Museum and one of the leading voices for the preservation of historic buildings and streets in Freedmen’s Town.

“If you remove it, it loses its value – its archeological value, its importance. You want to leave them in,” she said. “Where there are places that have already been damaged, there will be some removal, because you have to remove them and then reset them properly. But that’s done under supervision and one by one, not backhoe and break half of them up and scoop them away.” 

Roberts and other advocates suggest the city use tunneling methods to fix the pipes under the street and put new utilities underneath sidewalks.

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Bricks in front of the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum on Andrews Street.

But Parker said that would do nothing to fix the degrading streets and cost the city millions of dollars more.

“I am a committed preservationist,” she said. “We consulted with folks in Charleston, in – I believe – Boston (and) several other cities that have historic brick streets. They all do the same thing we’re doing. They pick them up, they clean them, they put them right back down.” 

Roberts said she is not giving up hope and will continue to fight for leaving the bricks right where they have been since the early 20th century.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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