Residents in Houston’s Freedman’s Town neighborhood near downtown spent Friday celebrating the re-installation of their historic bricks.
More than 3,600 bricks, laid more than a century ago by freed former slaves and their descendants, were accidentally damaged by city contractors in November 2016.
Friday was a day some residents told KHOU they fought for and never gave up hope they would see.
“It’s wonderful!” said a resident who identified herself as Mrs. Arthur Teal-Brown. “It’s great. It was a long time coming, but it came. Thank you, Jesus!”
Gladys House-El, a lifelong Freedmen’s Town resident, has been fighting for years to preserve the bricks.
“I feel good because our ancestors are all around us,” said House-El. “(The bricks have) just been neglected for decade after decade.”
Those bricks were laid in 1907 in what was then the hub of Houston’s African-American community after descendants of freed slaves petitioned City Council.
“Malaria was a big deal back then, and people were definitely getting sick, and they just wanted to have a way to get people back and forth,” said R.W. McKinney, who gives tours of historic Houston sites with his company, Mister McKinney’s Historic Houston, and was at Friday’s dedications. “When I do tours, I bring people from all over the country. When they visit Houston, they want to see Freedmen’s town. They want to see our past and our history.”
In November 2016, city contractors went past their limits on a drainage project at Andrews Street and Genesee Street, damaging the bricks at that intersection.
“It’s just been never ending by the city,” said House-El. “This wasn’t the first time.”
After cleaning, cataloguing and storing the bricks, and after delays caused by Harvey and other weather-related issues, crews began re-installing the bricks on Feb. 28.
“I’m glad we’re doing it,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said on that day. “I’m glad it’s getting done in the month of February during Black History Month.”
Turner also said that day that the city is seeking to establish a cultural historic district for the area. Freedmen’s Town has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1985.
Residents hope Friday’s milestone lays the foundation to preserve a key piece of a neighborhood founded and settled by those who were freed after the Civil War.
“We’re going to go block per block to restore the bricks,” said House-El.