Descendants of freed slaves in Texas City are outraged after the city demolished a historic auditorium in August. The African-American Preservation Committee filed a lawsuit on January 9 against the State of Texas and the city, claiming they illegally destroyed one of the last standing pieces of the Historic Black Lincoln High School.
The committee protects African-American history in Texas City including the Bell House and Historic District.
The group said it was not given a warning about the demolition or even an opportunity to argue their case to keep it.
"We did not have adequate communication," Charlesa Gary, President of the African-American Preservation Committee in Texas City. "It really makes me mad – it pisses me off."
On July 29, the Texas City Code Enforcement Division sent a letter to the landowners notifying them of possible code violations with the building. According to the group, the building was torn down on August 3 and they had until August 8 to contact the code enforcement office.
Gary said the group followed all of the city's orders to get the building into compliance so she doesn't understand why the Mayor proceeded with destroying the building. She said the group had a meeting with Mayor Dedrick Johnson about the building, and he asked the group to get a structural engineer to inspect the building and she followed his orders.
"I had a lot of questions as to why," she said. "We've only had this building less than two years at the time, I did everything, we were compliant with everything that he asked."
Gary said she was made aware of the demolition by a phone call from the media asking her for a statement regarding the auditorium. According to an article by the Galveston County News, Gary knew the building needed work, but she was hoping to replace it with another building.
According to one of the group’s lawyers, Ralph Manginello, this is not the first time Texas City has done this. He's investigating whether or not 111 other properties have been legally or illegally destroyed by Texas City.
"Texas City, Mayor Johnson and his fire marshal have systematically violated the constitution over the past year or so by aggressively destroying properties without due process."
Resident Vera Bell was given the land that the auditorium was built on by her grandfather, a freed slave. He and three other men saved their money to invest the 230 acres of land. She said she couldn’t believe the city took away her family’s history.
"I was so hurt, I guess I was angry, I was shocked," she said. "I told him right then, you've hurt a lot of people in this community by demolishing this building – to me it’s like you’ve taken a dagger and stuck it in my heart, I’m so hurt I don’t know what to say.”
Bell said she doesn't know who to trust anymore.
"I feel I really lost something and I know that's just a building," she said. "But the love, the trust, the faith that I had in people, to give us an opportunity to listen to our plan for what we had planned to do."
The committee was working to restore the building and make it a community center and is now seeking more $250,000 in damages.
The Texas City Mayor’s office did not respond to request for comment.