Amidst mediation talks between the city and preservationists, a contractor has accidentally damaged dozens of the historic bricks in Freedmen’s Town.
The Freedmen's Town Preservation Coalition's Dorris Ellis got a call from a resident at 7:30 on Monday morning, "informing me that the bricks were being destroyed. So I got myself together, came on out and saw what they had done."
The coalition has been advocating preserving the century-old brick streets in Houston's oldest African American neighborhood.
Historians believe those bricks were laid by former slaves and their descendants.
"I did not anticipate the grief I felt," Ellis said. "It was as if I attended the funeral of a loved one."
So what happened?
Carol Haddock, deputy director of engineering and construction division at the city's public works department, said a contractor was doing work on Genesee Street to replace some old utility pipes when the crew tried to remove a concrete slab, "and in doing so, that slab extended beyond the area he was authorized to do work and pulled loose a number of bricks that we were not intending to have disturbed as part of this project."
The controversy over the Freedmen's Town brick streets goes back decades. It came to a head early last year, when activists successfully stopped the city from removing the bricks for utility repairs.
The preservation coalition and the city have been in mediation on how to move forward.
Haddock said the city is trying to accommodate advocates.
"We are using the techniques that have been provided both by the historic commission and by the advocates and by the preservation group on how we are supposed to handle and treat the bricks if they have to be disturbed," she said.
What happened was an unfortunate accident, she said, and the contractor has apologized to the city. But most of the 200 or so bricks didn't break from the incident and will be put back, Haddock said.
Dorris Ellis is not satisfied.
"It should not have occurred if you're halfway awake in the city of Houston and you're getting contracts from the city, you should know something about this area," she said. "Particular if you're coming to work in this area."
She said the city should have done a better job instructing the contractor.
Mayor Sylvester Turner, who has just returned from a trade mission to Mexico, is now expected to meet with advocates to discuss the incident and how to move forward.