The grinch stole Christmas, and the grinch is Mayor Annise Parker. Although this website primarily exists to track the City of Houston criminals who run Gregory library, we’ve put plenty of Fourth Ward / Freedman’s Town history here because the Gregory library is located in Fourth Ward / Freedman’s Town.
Recall in an earlier post how we explained the City use eminent domain to take three houses next to Gregory. The City could not afford to purchase those houses. Now the City is broke so they need to sell some land. What’s some of the first land on the auction block? Park land right next to the Allen Parkway Village public housing project. Why would Parker care if low income residents (mostly African American) don’t have a place to play? As long as Parker can shovel $6 million of taxpayers funds to subsidize Wal-Mart developers she’ll get plenty of campaign donations. Unfortunately low income public housing tenants can’t bribe politicians, so they get screwed out of park land.
On Wednesday, December 8, the founder of Gregory Library Watch appeared on Minister Robert Muhammad’s KPFT radio show Connect the Dots. Minister Muhammad is the Southwest Regional Minister of the Nation of Islam. His radio show has hosted us before and he has long supported progressive causes, especially the death penalty and the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement.
Check out the video right here:
On Sunday November 14, the Houston Chronicle ran a short piece about the Gregory Library. They were responding to a press conference we called on Saturday November 13, which marked the one year anniversary of the facility.
Here is the photo and the complete text of the article:
Critics accuse library of selective history
Activists say story of poor blacks excluded
By HIBA ADI
Nov. 13, 2010, 10:23PM
A handful of activists from Freedmen’s Town spent the first anniversary of the African American Library at the Gregory School voicing concerns about Houston’s first black history and culture library.
Timothy O’Brien, a historian with Gregory Library Watch, a group established in January to monitor the activities of the taxpayer-funded public library, said the building at 1300 Victor excludes certain historical information.
Activist Lenwood Johnson said, for example, the library won’t archive stacks of documents he has from a 15-year effort to save Allen Parkway Village housing.
Long-standing tension between community activists and elected officials is stunting the growth of the archival collection, they said.
“It’s all political,” O’Brien said. “You go in that Freedmen’s Town room and the timeline on the three walls stops at 1954.”
The building, once Fourth Ward’s Edgar Gregory School, sat vacant for almost 30 years. Transforming it into a library took years of struggle and cost more than $11 million in federal grants, as well as library and city construction funds.
“Now it’s become this archive where all the people in the neighborhood, African-Americans, are not welcomed,” O’Brien said. “They don’t want to hear the low-income black history because it indicts the African-American politicians,” he said.
At least one historical researcher applauded the library’s efforts.
“Before they were beginning to open, they were getting people to bring their history so they could exhibit it,” said Debra B. Sloan, historical researcher for R.B.H. Yates Museum.
The library does need more visitors and more collections, she added.
“There isn’t enough old history,” she said. “I have tried to get people (in the community) to talk to (the library), but they don’t want to. … Maybe it’s too painful.
“They would be willing to take anything anyone gives them. This is the best we can get right here.”
Library visitors such as Gregory School alumnus Charley Earl, 66, said documents are scanned every day.
“If you bring it, they will scan it and put it in the archives,” he said. “Maybe not on … display, but from what I gather that’s going to change. They’re going to take stuff down and put other stuff up.
“A lot of history was lost,” he said. “It’s hard to get a lot of those old documentations.”
Here’s the link where you can read all the comments:
The City of Houston spent over $410,000 taking some houses right next to the African American Library at Gregory. Of course the houses are from the 1930s and made up some of the 550 contributing structures when the neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic places back in 1985. (see: Nat’l Register listing) Using eminent domain, the city pushed out two African American families and one Latino family. See the document showing that right here:
The City could be earning over $1,400 a month in rents from these properties, but instead of fixing up the houses, they’ve left them deteriorate, making them an eyesore:
the director of the Houston Public Library who signed the document to take the houses, is responsible for destroying more than one African American family’s life. Here’s the press conference from when the last family got kicked out in December 2009 (note the Gregory Library in the background):
This coming Wednesday, October 13, at 3:30 we will be on Robert Muhammad’s radio show Connect the Dots. The show is broadcast on KPFT at 90.1 FM and it also can be streamed live on their website and for up to 15 days on their archive page.
The City of Houston’s Fourth Ward website claims that the Gregory Library, which was renovated for over $11 million dollars of taxpayer funds, is getting 50 or more visits per week! Please see Houston Chronicle: $11 million for renovation article for that cost citation.
By taking the Gregory Library’s current salaries (see document: Gregory Library budget 2010) of $437,405 and dividing it by 52 weeks per year, we see that it costs the taxpayers $8,411.00 per week just for library salaries. Then when we divide that $8,400 plus dollars per week by 50 visitors, we come out to a cost of $168+ per visitor.
That $168 per visitor figure is very conservative because that overhead does not include things like insurance on the building, security guards, and utilities. Once we obtain the data on those costs we will get the actual taxpayer cost of each library visitor.
Can you spell tax dollar boondoggle?
Our email dated August 31, 2010
Dr. Rhea Lawson, Director, Houston Public Library
In January 2010 I brought Bobby Caldwell, a 76 year old African American attorney, to give his oral history at the African American Library at Gregory. Your staffer, Nicolas Costellanos conducted part one of his interview and then conducted part two a few months later when I again drove Mr. Caldwell to the library. To this day, Mr. Caldwell’s oral history has not been posted on the Gregory Library site.
Today I was at the Gregory and spoke about this with Helena Stokes, the manager of the library. Ms Stokes had many excuses but no answers about why oral history subjects who gave interviews after Bobby Caldwell have their history posted to the Gregory website but no reason why Mr. Caldwell’s was not. In fact Ms. Stokes became very belligerent and said something to the effect of “You can ask my boss …” It is entirely unnecessary for your employees to talk to taxpaying citizen’s like myself an unprofessional tone of voice particularly when I was asking a very simple question and in light of the fact that the Gregory has absolutely no patrons 10 months after it was opened. (see Fox News and Channel 13 new stories about that exact issue).
Ms. Stokes also informed me that Nicolas Castellanos, who had no degree in African American anything, (just like all the employees at Gregory) no longer works for the library system and that there is no one to conduct oral histories at the Gregory library. When will that situation be rectified and what is the point of having oral history facilities and equipment if you just fire the person who was doing them and don’t replace him?
Therefore I have two questions:
1. When is Bobby Caldwell’s oral history going to be available to the public via the Gregory website?
2. When is the Gregory going to have a qualified person conducting oral histories working on site?
Timothy J. O’Brien, Ph.D – for Gregory Library Watch
Read Dr. Lawson’s reply: Rhea Lawson reply 9.2.10
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Freedmen’s Town – Gregory Library Watch will hold a press conference at 1204 Victor (next to the Gregory Library) in the historic Fourth Ward.
The press conference concerns Dr. Rhea Lawson, the director of the Houston Public Library system and the investigation of Lawson for the falsification of government documents and much more.
Download flyer – GLW prescon flyer 9.7.10
On March 18, 2009 Acting Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland attended a community meeting at St. James UMC in historic Freedmen’s Town. Chief McClelland did a fine job ignoring the residents complaints about racial profiling and harassment of African Americans by his police force.
McClelland has been working for and often justifying a racist police force for 32 years now so it must come very naturally for him to ignore citizen concerns about the police department. (Remember his role in setting up Quanell X? one account is here.) In front of a packed church McClelland claimed that he “would not tolerate” unprofessional behavior by his department. So we asked him to address his lying Inspector General’s office particularly Lt. Thomas Hartnet who is doing his best to cover up our complaint against the African American Library at Gregory School. What did McClelland say in response to our question? NOTHING. Instead, five minutes later he left the building. Seems not only does he “tolerate unprofessional behavior” he actively covers it up.
Here’s the complaint we filed with him this morning:
Acting Chief of Police
Houston Police Department
1200 Travis Street
Houston, TX 77002
March 19, 2010
RE: Complaint re: Lt. Thomas Hartet, Inspector General’s office
Dear Chief McClelland,
Here is my complaint, which I have also attached as letter, which is signed and dated.
On February 4, 2010 I filed a complaint about discrimination at the African American Library at Gregory School in Freedmen’s Town with Karlinda Kirkwood of the Inspector General’s office. Your complaint system itself is designed to cover up complaints because:
1) There is no record of the complaint provided to people who file them.
2) The inspector general’s office never contacts the person who filed the complaint to tell what, if anything, was the result of their complaint.
After I contacted the inspector general’s office again, they told me that on February 9, 2010 they “referred the complaint to the department,” that is the Houston Public library system.
After several weeks passed and I finally got a letter from the library, which did not address the complaint, on February 24 I spoke to Lt. Thomas Hartnet who told me to “work with the library department.” I explained to him that before I filed a complaint with his office I had already filed the same complaint with the library complaint system and when they refused to address it I filed the complaint with his office. Lt. Hartnet assured me if deputy director of the library Meller Langford did not address my complaint he “would investigate her.” My neighbor Mr. Lenwood Johnson and then met with Ms. Langford on March 2, 2010 at the African American Library at Gregory school and she again refused to address my complaint.
On March 2, I again telephone Lt. Hartnet who now changed his story and said that he would refer a new complaint against Meller Langford to the Houston Public Library Director Rhea Lawson.
On March 3 I filed a complaint with Karlinda Kirkwood of the Inspector Generals office. As per your department’s usual method they did not contact me.
On March 16 I called Lt. Harnet and he said that my complaint was referred to Rhea Lawson on March 5 and “it took a while for inter office mail to get it there.” When I asked why he did not investigate Meller Langford like he said he would, he denied that he told me that. When I asked him what would happen after the library again ignored my complaint he claimed, “You know the answer to that Mr. O’Brien.” Actually I do not work in the Office of the Inspector General and I do not have any idea what if anything they will do when they refer two separate complaints to the library and they do not address them.
Lt. Harnet’s lie to me about what he would do to prosecute my complaint is unprofessional behavior. Your Inspector General’s office is involved in covering up the discriminatory behavior of Houston Public Library employees against me on January 20, 2009. Almost two months have passed and your department refuses to carry out its duties.
Because you stood in my church last night and said you “would not tolerate unprofessional behavior,” I want to know what action you will take to address this matter. The police department works for the taxpayers and should not be involved in covering up malfeasance by city employees.
I request that you address this matter immediately and contact me in writing describing what actions you have taken to address your Inspector General’s office, particularly Lt. Thomas Harnet’s lack of professionalism and failure to discharge his duties in my complaints against the African American Library at Gregory School and Meller Langford, deputy director of the Houston Public library.
Timothy J. O’Brien, Ph.D
Here’s Mayor Parker’s email to us which we just received Monday morning;
from COH – Mayor <email@example.com>
to Gregory Library Watch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
date Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 9:18 AM
subject RE: Community denied access to African American Library @ Gregory School
Dear Mr. O’Brien,
Thank you for your letter of February 4, 2010, concerning the African
American Library at the Gregory School. I appreciate your desire to assist
in making the African American Library at the Gregory School the success we
You have suggested various uses for the facility, including after school
programming and computer labs for the use of the community. The Gregory
School is designed as a research library and not a neighborhood or community
library. We do not have the resources to provide the type of programming
that you have suggested at this location. However, the Library Department’s
Mobile Computer Lab has been located at the Gregory School site for two days
per week for several weeks for use by the community. So far, it has been
lightly used. You may wish to alert your neighbors to the availability of
this resource. If you have ideas for publicizing the Mobile Lab, please let
us know. We evaluate the best locations for the Mobile Computer Labs on an
ongoing basis. We would also like to point out that the Central Library
located at 500 McKinney, less than 2 miles from Gregory, provides most of
the services that you are requesting.
While we have staff members who are engaged in grant writing for the City
and cannot use your assistance in that area, we are very much interested in
any help you wish to offer toward enhancing and maximizing donations of
materials for the collection at the Gregory School. We are anxious for the
community to embrace the research mission of the library and assist in
building the collection. If you are interested in volunteering in our
outreach efforts to encourage community members to donate historical
documents for the Gregory School collection, we certainly welcome your
assistance. Please go to the Library Department’s website and click on
Volunteer Opportunities, or call HPL Volunteer Services at (832) 393-1481,
so that we can get you started.
Thank you again for your interest in the Houston Public Library’s African
American Library at the Gregory School.
Mayor Annise D. Parker
You can read our letter right here letter-to-mayor-2-4-10-1