The fate of 100-year-old road paving bricks laid by freed slaves in historic Freedmen's Town could be decided in mediation between preservationists and city officials, rather than in court. District court Judge Larry Weidman ordered the two parties to meet next week to work out a plan.
"With a Temporary Restraining Order surging over the head of the City of Houston, the importance of the Freedmen’s Town historic cultural resource, the necessity for preservation and the need to improve infrastructure in the area, Judge Larry Weidman, in the 80th Civil District Court has ordered the City of Houston and the Freedmen's Town Preservation Coalition (FTPC) into mediation, which begins February 5," Doris Ellis, president of the coalition, said in a statement on the group's Facebook page.
"Now the FTPC awaits a time and location for said mediation and we are ready to engage in progressive dialogue with the city to preserve this heritage as infrastructure is provided by the city."
Residents in Freedmen's Town, led by the coalition, are concerned the heritage of the area will be diminished if the bricks are removed.
On Jan. 20, District court Judge Alexandra Smoots-Hogan issued a last-minute, 14-day restraining order to temporarily stop city crews from removing bricks in Freedmen's Town as part of a citywide infrastructure improvement plan. The bricks were purchased and laid by freed slaves in that Fourth Ward community, a residential neighborhood founded and built by previously enslaved families and their descendants immediately after emancipation in 1865.
Smoots-Hogan granted the order after members of the Freedmen's Town Preservation Coalition filed the request against the city and contractor Conrad Construction.
The project is part of the city's "Rebuild Houston" plan, which includes removing the bricks to replace aging water and sewer pipes the the Fourth Ward. The streets include Andrews, Wilson and Robin.
City officials and area residents have discussed different technologies for preserving the bricks when conducting the Freedmen's Town infrastructure upgrades but cost appears to be an issue.