Work Stops on Freedmen’s Houston Streets

     HOUSTON (CN) – Houston’s plan to dig up patterned brick streets paid for by freed black slaves came to a grinding halt Tuesday when a judge approved a restraining order.
     The Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition sued Houston and its contractor, Conrad Construction Co., on Tuesday in Harris County Court.
     After the Civil War, 1,000 freed slaves settled an area just west of Houston’s present downtown that came to be called Freedmen’s Town.
     When the city would not improve the neighborhood’s streets, the freedmen took it upon themselves, according to the complaint.
     “With the presence of only dirt running through their property, the freed former slaves complained that mud puddles were forming, creating breeding grounds for mosquitoes which was fostering malaria,” the complaint states.
     So the former slaves raised money to pave the streets with bricks that were “uniquely laid in a distinct African pattern known as a Yoruba pattern,” the preservation group says in the lawsuit.
     Though Houston, the Texas Historical Commission and the National Register of Historic Places have recognized Freedmen’s Town as a historic site, the city plans to dig up the bricks to replace aging water and sewer pipes beneath.
     The preservation coalition claims the city does not have a needed permit from the Texas Historical Commission.
     But Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s spokeswoman Janice Evans said the city has covered all its bases for the job.
     “We have all necessary approvals,” Evans told Courthouse News in an email.
     She said the city plans to put the bricks back in place.
     “The bricks are being damaged by heavier traffic that they did not have to endure in 1914,” Evans said. “This is a restoration project that will utilize the same materials, but leave the streets in a more stable state and better able to handle the load they must carry in the 21st century.”
     The project is at a standstill, as Harris County Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan granted the preservation coalition an ex parte restraining order Tuesday afternoon.
     “Defendants, jointly and severally, are enjoined from removing, altering, disturbing, damaging, covering or in any way rearranging any of the bricks from any street, alley or avenue within the geographic boundaries of Freedmen’s Town,” the order states.
     The preservation group is represented by Benjamin Hall III of Houston.
     Conrad Construction Co. did not respond to a request for comment.

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