Gregory Library Watch

Preserving working class Black history

This is what Ethnic Cleansing looks like

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:

In fact Dr. Rhea Lawson:

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):

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October 25, 2010 Posted by | ethnic cleansing, taxpayer waste | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Acting Chief of Police McClelland attempts to ignore cover up

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:

Charles McClelland
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,

Last night you came to my church, St. James UMC in Freedmen’s Town. You claimed that you would not tolerate “unprofessional behavior” of your policeman yet when I specifically mentioned my complaint against the Inspector General’s office (a section of the police department) you not only refused to address it, you left the building.

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.

Sincerely,

Timothy J. O’Brien, Ph.D

March 19, 2010 Posted by | police | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mayor Parker responds to our letter

Here’s Mayor Parker’s email to us which we just received Monday morning;

from    COH – Mayor <mayor@cityofhouston.net>
to    Gregory Library Watch <gregorylibrarywatch@gmail.com>
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
all envision.

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.

Sincerely,

Mayor Annise D. Parker

You can read our letter right here letter-to-mayor-2-4-10-1

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Mayor Parker | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Channel 13 ABC covers our group

Channel 13 Video here!

On Friday February 5, 2010 the 6:00 news on Channel 13 ran a story on us. Check out the TV clip.

They also put the text of our open letter to the mayor on their website. Thanks to reporter Cynthia Cisneros.

Library watch group wants changes

HOUSTON (KTRK) — A group is fighting to have more access to a library in one of Houston’s historic neighborhoods. They say the city needs to allow more community involvement.

They’re talking about the African-American library at Gregory school in Houston’s Fourth Ward.

It’s a question Linda Feldman has asked often.

“I sit in my living room and look out and ask why there’s not more traffic going inside there should be a lot of traffic in there,” she said.

Feldman is a long time Fourth Ward neighbor and was thrilled when the historic and run-down school was renovated and recently reopened as the African-American library at the Gregory school

Neighbor Lenwood Johnson and others there complain the state of the art research facility is often empty and is not community friendly, meaning only those doing research on African-American history and viewing exhibits are encouraged to go inside.

Neighbors with whom we spoke say empty rooms should be filled with computers for homework and other projects.

“Families here are too poor to have Internet services, so this could do it,” said Johnson.

The city says the facility is not a traditional library. It is a research facility, however a mobile library with over a dozen computers for public use come here twice a week and is free of charge.

“The function of this facility is to provide a place to preserve the history of African-Americans in Houston,” said Sandra Fernandez with the Houston Public Library. “So that means what we’re gathering is a collection of archival materials, oral histories and other items to help reach that goal.”

The Houston Public Library says it’s also working with area schools to open the facility to school tours. And anyone who graduated from the Gregory School is asked to come by the facility to share their story.
—————————-
Re: An open letter to Mayor Annise Parker

Dear Mayor Parker,

On January 5, 2010 Mr. Lenwood Johnson and I met with Helena Stokes, the administrative manager at the African American Library at Gregory School (AALG). We offered our volunteer services including grant writing and advising on community involvement. Ms. Stokes not only denied to utilize our expertise in African American history and community organizing, she also denied community groups access to the library facilities.

We suggested that the AALG offer some after school programs which are particularly needed by the residents in the immediate vicinity of the library. There is a lot of drug dealing in our Freedmen’s Town neighborhood that children must walk by on their way home from school everyday. Our children need structured, regularly scheduled adult supervised programs to save them from the streets. In fact I will volunteer to teach an after school class two days a week.

One month has passed since our meeting with Ms. Stokes, yet she refuses to even bother to answer our followup correspondence.

As you may know, the AALG has an annual payroll of $437,405. In addition the AALG is also budgeted to spend $18,000 on unqualified consultants. The AALG is supposed to be an archive of African American history, yet it only holds less than 10 linear feet of collections and does not even have any historical black periodicals or even subscriptions to the current African American newspapers. Ms. Stokes and the entire Houston Public Library system does not have one grant in process to purchase African American collections, nor have they ever written one grant to build their non-existent collection.

Affirmative action programs need to be installed in the AALG in order to address the community’s needs. The AAGL sits unused because the community’s requests, the city’s own consultants and the city Housing and Community Development’s plans for the Gregory School building were ignored.

In these days of budget deficits the Houston taxpayers should not be expected to pay nine (9) library staff to sit around with nothing to do when they in fact could and should be serving the community. What is even more shocking is that not one employee of the African American Library at Gregory even has a credential in African American history or studies.

We respectfully request that one of AAGL’s three empty classrooms be immediately reprogrammed into a computer lab with one staffer assigned to assist patrons with job searches and homework. Furthermore, we request that the community be granted access to the facility so that we provide volunteer after school programs. Finally, we request that the excessive security forces in AALG be reduced to a normal amount.

Sincerely,

Timothy O’Brien, Ph.D
On behalf of Gregory Library Watch

(Copyright ©2010 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)
Link to ABC TV posting of story.

February 6, 2010 Posted by | media | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Gregory Library Watch

This blog is to monitor the activities of the African American Library at Gregory School which is located in the historic Freedmen’s Town area of Houston, Texas.

According to the Gregory Library, their mission is  “To serve as a repository for use by historians, researchers, and the general public.”

Unfortunately the library offers very little for the public besides a nice diversion for an hour or so to peruse their galleries. It will take years, if not decades, to build a collection of African American archives. In the meantime the Gregory Library and our tax dollars could serve the community. Gregory does not have a computer room for people to use to search for jobs or for children to do homework. They do not have any programs like most libraries do. They have lots of empty space and two floors but nothing for any of the low income or other residents that live in the immediate vicinity of the library.

Even for the researcher, whether it is someone with a doctorate in African American history, or a grade school student doing a history project, there is very little material to work with. Currently the library only houses fourteen (14) archival collections. Here is the complete list. These archival collections only add up to 11 linear feet or less than 6 full boxes of documents. The library also has done a few oral histories and made them available on their website. The link on the Gregory library website shows only 22 oral histories, eight (8) which were already owned by the Houston Public Library.

We are  a group of concerned activists living in Freedmen’s Town. Our mission is to ensure that all of the history of African Americans in the City of Houston, but particularly in the Freedmen’s Town Historic District, is represented in the Gregory Library.

January 9, 2010 Posted by | welcome | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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