What seemed to be a pre- court room press conference about the historical bricks that line the streets in Freedmen’s Town/Fourth Ward, turned out to be a notice that a resolution could be right around the corner by way of court ordered mediation. Led by their apparent tireless leader, Dorris Ellis Robinson, the Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition and supporters presented a statement giving the public an update on what the status is on the bricks and their removal.
“The impasse came on January 20 when the city began removing the bricks and the FTPC immediately sought a restraining order and Judge Alexandra Smoots- Hogan granted a Temporary Restraining Order with a hearing set for Friday, January 30,” said Dorris Ellis Robinson, President of the FTPC. “With the importance of this historic cultural resource, the need for preservation and the need to improve infrastructure in the area, Judge Larry Weidman, in the 80th Civil District Court has ordered the City and FTPC to mediation, which begins February 5.”
The mediation news is an ice breaker in the long standing stalemate between the City and the FTPC about the removal of the bricks for an infrastructure utility project to be done under the historical brick streets.
After a temporary restraining order (TRO) was served to Don Conrad of Conrad Construction on January 20th and the project came to a crashing halt, the City of Houston contested the motion which landed the FTPC under the counsel of Attorney Benjamin Hall in Judge Smoots-Hogan’s courtroom on Tuesday, January 27th, a week after the restraining order was served. Judge Smoots- Hogan upheld her TRO, only to amend it to add the date it was issued to the document.
January 30th was the anticipated day for a court room battle that has been brewing for 7 months, but Judge Larry Weidman whose court they were scheduled to be in, ordered the two parties to mediation during a status meeting between both counsels. “I want preservation of the area, if it comes through mediation I’m good with that, if it comes through a forced resolution we are fine with that as well,” said Ellis- Robinson.
The TRO is still in effect and during the mediation phase the bricks are protected from removal by the City. Members of the FTPC are hopeful through mediation the City will see that there are alternate solutions and see the value of preserving such a historical landmark.
“They are historic, they are legacy, they are the blood and sweat of the freed men and their ancestors and their money made the difference,” said Ellis- Robinson. “That is why we can stand here today because they made a decision to improve themselves and this was about 49 years out of slavery, so their energy should be an inspiration to us all, so this area should be a place where people should want to come to see what did people do once slavery ended, where did they go, how did they fare, how did they make a living. It’s so much energy that should come from it.”
Their plan is to come before the City again, as they have presented their trenchless tunneling method of procedure since July of 2014, and ask them to take another look at their actions and what taking those bricks up means to the city. Restoration is not an option; the FTPC wants preservation only and is still ready to fight for what they believe in. One hurdle they have to go back and jump again is the bricks that have already been removed in two previous attempts to uproot. The City of Houston promised to label each brick so they may be placed back from which they came, yet during the excavation of the bricks twice prior, no labeling was performed.
“That is an unresolved issue that has to be discussed at the table,” said Ellis-Robinson about the failure of the City to label the bricks. It is a known fact that the bricks were laid in a Yoruba pattern that led many to safety and have historical markings on some. “We can’t let that continue and we will find clarity to figure it out.”
A voice in the midst of the supporters compared Freedmen’s Town bricks to the infrastructure project performed in River Oaks many years ago, calling for the same methods to be used.
“The city of Houston actually pioneered trenchless technology 30 years ago in the River Oaks project when they put in all the sewage there without disturbing the streets and not tearing up the surface at the demand of the people of River Oaks,” said Michael Nixon, the National Historical Preservation Consultant for the RBH Yates Museum located in Freedmen’s Town blocks away from the designated removal site. “That was done and it’s been done all over the country and even since then it’s a common thing. You actually save money because it’s a less labor intensive thing you don’t have to have as much digging up and in terms of the bricks you don’t have to mark them, remove them, put them back in the same place which is very labor intensive and the city is not even doing that, they infer they are but they really aren’t and they admitted that in court on Tuesday that they aren’t numbering the bricks and we are saying like before, do what you did for the people of River Oaks and do it for Freedmen’s Town, it’s a win, win and it doable. It’s very easy to adapt the current contract to provide for that.”
Now that a judge has order the City to talk to the FTPC via mediation the discussion of preservation and protection for what was called a “culture treasure” will finally take place on what should be listening ears with a mind for compromise.
“We aren’t trying to present the City with any new information. We have been presenting to the City since July options that were available to them to preserve and protect,” said Ellis- Robinson, FTPC President. “Now that the judge said go to mediation to work it out and figure it out, I believe that on both sides we will work to figure out what the solution is. We will come out with a good solution for the preservation of the Freedmen’s Town and also to provide the infrastructure that citizens in this area is in need of.”
Updated information: Mediation will begin Wednesday, February 4, 2015 from 9a.m.-5p.m. at 770 South Post Oak lane, #410, 77056 with Judge Mark Davidson as the mediator. Mediation for FTPC is led by Attorney Benjamin Hall.
After another round with the City of Houston and Conrad Construction, the Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition has stopped the uprooting of the hundred year old bricks on Andrews Street this morning.
FTPC President, Dorris Ellis Robinson, spent the morning hours speaking to media while watching construction workers pick at the bricks, taking them up one by one and stacking them neatly in layers. In her patience, she worked diligently with her team to get a legal motion to the site to stop the further work. By 11:30 am, Catherine Roberts of the FTPC and Rutherford B. Yates Museum rushed over the freshly signed temporary restraining order requested last night in an emergency motion to stop the project.
Since July of 2014, the FTPC has requested that Mayor Parker and the City of Houston to reverse their decision to take up the bricks in order to update utility (water) lines under the streets. The debate over preservation and restoration has resulted in a stalemate as neither side has found a middle ground with the other.
“We have tried to schedule meetings and we do our work and they do their work and no meetings take place,” said FTPC President Dorris Ellis Robinson. “We’ve come to an impasse and we had to do a TRO (temporary restraining order) today.”
This is not the first time Robinson has interrupted Conrad Construction’s project as she laid in the trench made by removed bricks almost a month ago, during a trial run of what would be.
“We have 14 days to meet with the City and again explain the alternative solutions and to have support for preserving a historical place,” said Robinson.
Community member Charonda Johnson saw crew members out Monday afternoon inspecting the area and said she knew then it was be something going on today.
The members of the FTPC have continuously shown their devotion to preserving the history of the freed men who paid their own money to have the bricks made and laid.
“They’ll never be able to put back the sweat and tears that it took to put it (bricks) down,” said Reverend Samuel Smith, pastor of Mt. Horeb Baptist Church that sits about three blocks away from the construction site.
Many that gathered at the site complained that the bricks were not being labeled and placed like the City promised which provided further unrest about the project.
“It’s disheartening, the broken promises by the City,” said Ashley Jones of the FTPC. “The methods used are not what they promised, no labeling or identifying of the bricks. How can they be replaced?”
Once the TRO was given to Don Conrad of Conrad Construction and after reviewing the document and speaking to the City of Houston, stopped the removal of the bricks and began to replace the ones removed.
According to Alvin Wright, Public Information Officer for the City of Houston, the next step is for the City to go through legal and they will review it. The first court hearing will be January 30th at 1 p.m.. The court has not been released yet.
The temporary restraining order will stop the construction project for 14 days.
Christmas night ended in death at a popular lounge in Texas City, TX as a 20- year old black man named Carlton Smith was shot to death by a Texas City police officer, Christopher Hamm, in the early hours.
Officers were called to H.T.’s Lounge on Hwy FM 1765 at Lake Road at 1:20 am asking for assistance in closing the club. Witnesses have repeatedly said that there was a fight in the club that allegedly the young woman who was with Smith was involved in. The participants in the altercation were said to be removed from the club and then another fight broke out that involved the deceased.
“It all started off that there was a fight that broke out in the club and one thing led to another and somehow it ended up outside. As they go outside my buddy Carlton was getting jumped by six or seven people and the only one to defend him was himself. His cousin, Erica, got a gun and shot in the air to get everyone away from him and as she shot it in the air someone hit her and she fell,” said an eye-witness, whom wished to keep his name private,as he stood with Smith’s family. That’s when Carlton grabbed the gun and that’s when he started shooting at the ground to get them away from him, everybody got away from him and as he had the gun pointed to the ground the law man just shot him in the head, first shot, and then when he was going down he shot him in the shoulder,second shot and then he just walked up on him and he shot him like four more times.”
The trouble with this incident is the many different recountings of what really happened.
Texas City Police Chief Robert Burby held a press conference the same day as the shooting, December 26th, to issue a statement that varies from many several eye- witness testimonies.
“Upon arrival to the scene the deceased was observed in the front parking lot firing a handgun in the direction of the patrons who were exiting through the front door of the establishment,” said chief Burby. “The Texas City police officer arrived in the parking lot and saw the individual shooting a handgun in the direction of people and drew his service weapon. The deceased turned towards the officer and pointed his gun at the officer. The officer then fired his weapon striking the deceased. The deceased was pronounced dead at the scene.”
H.T. Aldridge, owner of H.T.’s Lounge, who has operated this heavily frequented club for over 30 years handed over surveillance videos over to the authorities and is cooperating with the investigation.
On Sunday, December 28, 2014 at 5:00pm, the Smith family led by activist Quanell X held a press conference on the steps of Texas City Police Department asking for the releasing of the videotape to the family and public. Due to the conflicting reports community members such as King Yashua and the Nation of Liberation feel as if Smith was assassinated. Quanell X has joined the family and community to demand transparency under “questionable circumstances” that surround this shooting.
“We just have three demands that’s all.Release the video tape. We are asking that the videotape be released we want that tape from the night of the club to be released,” said Quanell X. “That will tell the truth about what happened at that club that night. So if for the sake for transparency and justice, release the videotape because we believe the videotape will tell the story according to eye witnesses the young man was shot from the back.”
The hurt of the family was profound as his mother, Kathy Kelly, could barely express her thoughts on the situation. All she could manage to say was, “I cant describe how it feels.”
The sadder issue was the opposition the family met by supporters of the Texas City Police Department that created a stir during the brief press conference.
Protestors revved up the motorcycle engines to try and block communication between Quanell X and the media. They tried to over power the eyewitness and mother. It quickly escalated to racial rhetoric and that only added more grief to a tragic situation.
“Just go home,” yelled a protestor. “The truth is going to come out,” responded King Yeshua.”We want America to see how we are treated down here. We are in the heart of the confederacy. You should have never assassinated the man.”
The press conference fell apart as the two sides mashed up in a shouting match that lasted longer than the press conference. Eventually prayer was given although it was not respected by everyone present. Over time more and more community members started to show up due to the heavy circulation of social media posts about the highly charged event.
Quanell X gathered the crowd together in the dark,cold and rainy night to tell them to pray and not to be led into something that was not intended, to leave with respect.
“We want one thing ,we only want one thing, We have spoken to eyewitnesses who haven’t even given statements to the police yet and we want the actual footage, let everybody see. If the brother was wrong then we need to see because none of us are defending someone who is wrong but if the young brother was shot from the back and never given a command to put the gun down and all he was doing was grabbing the gun trying to stop the young girl with the gun and shot that many times from behind, we have a problem,” said Quanell X.
He requested that everyone respected the wishes of the parents,to be non-violent.
The investigation is still pending and Officer Hamm has been placed on modified duty.
We are writing to inform you about an all-expenses-paid program for highschool student journalists from low-income backgrounds that will take place for 10 days next summer on the campus of Princeton University. The program is entering its 14th year; since 2002, approximately 260 students from high schools across the country have participated. The program’s goal is to diversify college and professional newsrooms by encouraging outstanding students from low-income backgrounds to pursue careers in journalism.
Classes at the program are taught by reporters and editors from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, The Daily Beast, Time, National Journal, New York Magazine, The New Republic, ESPN the Magazine, CNN and NPR, among other media outlets. Students meet with numerous Princeton professors, as well as Princeton’s president and dean of admissions. They report an investigative story, cover a professional sports event, produce a TV segment, and publish their own newspaper. And they receive guidance on the college admissions process not only during the 10 days of the program, but also during the fall of their senior year of high school.
Students selected for the program will have all their costs, including the cost of travel to and from Princeton, paid for by the program.
If you are a teacher, we ask that you encourage your students to apply. If you are an administrator, we ask that you help us spread the word by publishing an announcement for teachers or other administrators who might know students who would be interested in applying. We will happily accept several students from the same school, so there is no need to worry about your own students competing for slots in the program.
The application process will take place in two rounds. The first round of the application should be filled out online here:
We must receive this part of the application by 11:59 p.m. EST on Friday, February 20, 2015.
Those students selected to advance to the second round of the application process will be notified in March. They will be asked to provide printed copies of the following items via U.S. mail: an official transcript; the first page of the 2013 (or 2014, if available) income-tax return form (the 1040 or 1040EZ form) of their custodial parent(s)/guardian(s), or a signed statement by their parent(s)/guardian(s) saying that their income is below the level at which they would be required to file income tax returns; a recommendation letter from a teacher; and clips from their high school newspaper or other publication (optional).
To be eligible for the program, students must meet the following qualifications:
- They must currently be juniors in high school.
– They must live in the continental United States.
- They must have at least an unweighted 3.5 grade point average (out of 4.0).
– They must have an interest in journalism.
– The combined income of their custodial parent(s)/guardian(s) plus child support payments, if any, must not exceed $45,000.
Note: This program is for students from low-income backgrounds. If the combined income of the custodial parent(s)/guardian(s) plus child support payments, if any, exceeds $45,000 and a student still wishes to apply, he or she may attach a letter explaining why his or her family qualifies as financially under-resourced.
Additional information about the program is available at www.princeton.edu/sjp.
If you have questions, the best way to reach us is via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dwight Boykins Holiday Bicycle Giveaway FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 19, 2014
Contact: Chelbi Mims (832) 393-3001
In recognition of the holiday season, Council Member Dwight Boykins is partnering with the University of Houston Police Department to host a Holiday bicycle giveaway for 15 children from Forever Families Foster Care and Adoption Agency.
Forever Families is a non-profit organization that provides adoptive and foster placement for children within Texas. Forever Families provides children with a safe nurturing and educational environment through connection with families that last forever.
Who: Council Member Dwight Boykins, University of Houston Police Department, and Forever Families
When: December 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm
Where: Intersection of Southmore Blvd. and Almeda Rd. Houston TX 77004
Why: “A bicycle should be an integral part of every child’s experience,” said Council Member Dwight Boykins. “It gives me great pleasure to partner with The University of Houston Police Department and Forever Families to make the dream of owning a bicycle a reality for these deserving youth.”
The Freedmen Town Preservation Coalition (FTPC) showed how serious they are about protecting the historical bricks of Fourth Ward today as they firmly stood on the bricks, unmoved, forcing Conrad construction crew to stop removing the bricks.
On Wilson St, in Fourth Ward construction crews hand removed bricks for what was a demonstration of what will be. They dug up the bricks and stacked them on top of each other before the FTPC and concerned community members began to show unrest about the demonstration.
“This is just a trial,” said Alvin Wright, Public Information Officer for the City of Houston. “We are hand picking them up and taking them to a center to have them cleaned and to see if we are doing the process properly.”
The continuous fight over preservation and restoration has been continuous since June when Mayor Parker announced she would restore the streets in Freedmen’s Town/Fourth Ward after doing infrastructure to update utilities. The issue came in when community members realized the hundred year old historical bricks would be disturbed in the process.
For months the FTPC along with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee championing for them on the federal side have visited City Hall petitioning for a recall of the restoration project while holding press conferences, teach-in and walk throughs of the streets for people to learn history in order to appreciate their effort and join in.
Many entities are involved such as the Texas Historical Commission and TXDot. TXDot is working with the FTPC now to see if disturbing the bricks as is, is illegal due to the historical significance.
Congresswoman Lee said she wanted TXDot and the US Department of Transportation notified so they may begin a thorough investigation as federal money is involved.
The lack of communication between the City of Houston, the FTPC, TXDot and other powers that be led to the misunderstanding of when to touch the bricks and where. Today they all discovered that it will not be an easy task to take up the bricks and the FTPC showed constant displeasure in the process of taking up the bricks.
“They took them up without labeling them, how are they supposed to know where to put them back,” said Lue Williams of the FTPC?
After a three hour stand off the bricks that were taken up were replaced in the street. President of the FTPC, Dorris Ellis Robinson, laid down in the trench where the bricks were removed after she led the protestors in the song, We Shall Not Be Moved.
The bricks were replaced and they remain for another day. The Congresswoman has requested another meeting with the City for January as she spoke with the city liaison for Mayor Parker, Keith Wade.
The Palm Center at the corner of Griggs at Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd will receive a facelift in the next year as the old King’s Flea Market will face demolition to become the new Village at Palm Center, affordable living in an area that is seeing lots of new development.
There will be a four story mixed unit, mixed – income living complex that will hold 222 units and 200 of them will be for low to moderate income. 22 of the units will be at market rate. The breakdown will be 154 apartments and 68 townhomes. There is a call back list for units and once the doors open they will start to call the people who are on the list. “The low income housing will be based off of the incomes of applicants. They are mixed at 30% Area Median Income (AMI), 50% AMI, and 60% area median income and it’s for the whole Galveston and Houston area so a lot of the people who live in the community now can afford it”, according to Chris Akbari of ITEX.
The impending Metro rail that has already paved its way down MLK, Jr. Blvd proved to be an alluring aspect to the ITEX Group, when Clark Colvin, saw the area and began to visualize what could be the future of a once thriving neighborhood that has earned the reputation of being blighted.
“Two years ago Clark Colvin came to me with the idea of demolishing a flea market here in Southeast Houston and rebuilding housing,” said Chris Akbari, President of ITEX Group. “I kind of thought for a second he was crazy because I didn’t really know what he was talking about that day; but as I started to really evaluate all of the enterprises that are going on here in Southeast Houston, all the revitalization and all the collaborative efforts with the management district, with TIRZ, OST Partnership and all the neighborhood organizations that came together to really work to revitalize and do things in the world today where housing is being pushed into the suburban areas it is a tremendous benefit to have revitalization in the inner city of Houston.”
Akbari explained benefits of restoring the inner city community instead of pushing residents out so they have to live in the Pearland and in the outer suburban areas.
“It’s a chance to revitalize a part of the community that has needed it for quite a long time,” said Akbari.
This project had help from citizens as well who had a vision for their neighborhood and allowed ITEX to make it happen for them. Neal Rackleff, Director Houston Housing and Community Development Department, was an integral part of the $40 million project, providing $15.3 million in city funding to get it underway.
“How do we go from neglect and disorder to unity to light to beauty,” questioned Rackleff? “It takes people. It takes good people.”
He recognized the hard work of the community and reassured them that great things are happening there. Also District D’s Councilmember Boykins was attributed for his approval of the allocation of the money. He was cited as a champion of the community.
“We are really proud to be at the forefront of the resurgence of this community. The Village of Palm Center will have state of the art amenities including a 4,000 square foot community center, 2 playgrounds, a fitness center, ample green space, 222 units and 200 will be dedicated to people with low and moderate income,” said Rackleff. “One of the reasons we chose this area and we were quite strategic about it was because this area is on the upswing and people who live here are well aware. It was important to find a way to make sure that those with lower income can remain in this community as this wave of gentrification passes over us. It’s on the light rail, right next to the Houston Texans YMCA.”
Councilmember Dwight Boykins of District D was extremely excited about the new development in the area. As a native of the area he has big plans for the future of the Palm Center.
“I have to thank the Mayor for her commitment to the Village at Palm Center,” said Boykins. “It is a $15.3 million dollar financial investment into District D, with 15% set aside for Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise (MWBE).”
Boykins did request for jobs for local residents and for non- violent ex-offenders.
“This project is going to revitalize this neighborhood; we are going to put some mixed units here, retail under the ground. We are going to protect this neighborhood,” said Councilmember Boykins. “This is going to be good for our community, we are going to bring it back you guys and I’m so, so excited.”
He also mentioned that it was easy to get a project like this in that area. The land was there, an investor and developer that wanted to come in, along with the potential of the neighborhood and rail coming.
“In their calculation they had to determine if it was worth it and they saw future development with 610 and the universities here and land locked with University of Houston is prime,” said Boykins.
The defining element of this project is the shopping area that will be located on the first floor of the complex. It was stressed by the community and their councilmember that the right retailers come in that will match the community’s needs.
“It will be small retail because the square footage will go for living accommodation. That’s why it’s called mixed use because underneath on the first floor it will be commercial like a coffee shop, a little convenience store,” said Boykins. “We want it to fit the community. There is no need to put a product in here that nobody is buying because you want it. We want it to be service because the nearest major store is off of Mykawa and Gulfgate but you have all these people in this area here that need basic services.”
Super neighborhood President, Preston Roe, was in support and attendance as he too worked with the project to address the needs of the community. As a 50 year resident in the same house, he remembers how vibrant the area once was mentioning the Montgomery Wards that use to be there.
“We are coming back to bring the neighborhood back to what we the ones who have been staying in this area have once knew it to be. In times that have passed this has been a fluid area but the area went down. Many people left but I stayed,” said Roe. “As people see it grow they will gradually come back into the area.”
Demolition starts on Thursday, December 4th to tear down what is affectionately known to Houstonians as King’s Flea Market and it will last 60 days and then vertical construction will start. Construction will last about 14 months and the newly erected Village at Palm Center will be open to the new tenants.
A week after the Martin Luther King, Jr. statue donors and sponsors celebration at the beautiful promenade at MacGregor Park, two teenage males were spotted vandalizing the 8 foot image of Martin Luther King, Jr.
According to Sylvester Brown, Project Manager for the Black Heritage Society, a concerned citizen made a call that they witnessed two young kids beating on the statue with iron pipes.
The Houston Parks and Recreations department is working to assess the damages as they along with the Arts Alliance will help make the repairs to the new statue.
“This incident shined a light. We need security out there so the statue can be protected,” said Brown. “From my understanding Park Rangers chased them out but they were not apprehended.”
The incident was reported Friday, November 28th, just days after protestors gathered around the statue to pay respects to Michael Brown a slain African American teen in Ferguson, MO. The protestors are not suspected to be a part of this criminal act.
It is important to the Black Heritage Society that the statue is protected and that a security mechanism to protect it in the future is set in place. We want to prevent people from doing damage, and add protection for it 24-hours a day, said Brown.’
HPD has been contacted and the Sun is awaiting their response.