This article was featured in the exhibition publication of Suplex Presents: Three Exhibitions: Jamal Cyrus and is available for download in PDF form via the exhibition webpage here.
“Displacement? Hhhmm...that’s what they calling it nowadays? And they say that it’s what…. “the natural and unavoidable consequence of market forces.” I’ll say.
It’s true, for a fact, it’s a problem of low wages and high priced property. But it’s more than that ole tit for tat cream of wheat that they spoon feeding you. Cause ain’t no secret, whose gonna be off the ground and stuck in the air, in that see-saw game. Them roly-polies and butterballs always have a say when their fat pockets hit the ground. Yes sirree boss. And I guess that it’s about as natural as you want to make it out to be. Except, at the bottom, it makes you lose sight of the fact that although this was a slave city in a slave state, that at the bottom it was about commerce and political say-so. Even after they turned us loose, they needed someone to still do the work. Wasn’t too particular about who did it either. Poles, Italians, Mexicans, Jews and Greeks were added with us to the mix; that’s all 6th ward was, ‘The League O Nations’. And mind you, they didn’t want to have their help too far removed from that work. That’s why 2nd and 4th and 6th Wards was where they were. The first real ‘planned communities’, that’s a fact.
‘Cept you didn’t have no say of who lived round you. The people that lived around you was usually the people who worked around you. Close to Buffalo Bayou and the railroads. All them warehouses over there off Main and San Jacinto, backsides all them on Commerce and Runnels by that new soccer stadium, clear up to Fish King, back of Dowling at Leeland. I know it’s straight Mexican now but when I was a little boy there was all kind of businesses, major businesses, over there. There was the Anderson Lumberyard, my Uncle Glasco was carpenter, and he use to get his lumber there but I remember ironwroks and canning companies, groceries stores all kinds of businesses, mostly white. If you look at that neighborhood now, condos, lofts, bars and restaurants, it looks like new money, people forget about how bad it use to be, them Clayton Homes was something else.
Less folks forget them Jews and the few remaining whites started scurrying out of 3rd Ward in the early 50’s it was cause of them fair housing laws and the fact that they wasn’t going to be forced to live next to no ‘colored people’. That’s how ole man Edwards got that big house off Wichita with the brick wall around it. He has just come from the gambling house over there off Gillette. Told me that he had stopped at Irma’s to get him something to eat, had been up all night and wanted to eat him something before he laid it down. Bill Lawton was there running his mouth about his brother-in –law buying a house for little or nothing. So the next time he was over that way, he rode up through ‘Sugar Hill’ and found that house.
Now the whole thing has been thrown in reverse. Bound to happen like that. Those upper level degrees and all that social media can make up a whole lot of ground. Can’t blame it all on the fact that there ain’t no zoning laws. What it comes down to is that there is no regard at all, none, for the past. Constantly looking to knock down something that spoke of a place, a landmark or building, ignoring cultural events that marked a community. And scratching out neighborhoods one after the other, like MacArthur hoppin’ from island to island to island.
Moving people out and tearing down houses don’t do nothing to the soul of a place. At least not right away. Too many ghosts and stories that haven’t been laid to rest for that to happen overnight. What runs me hot is all these little Lewis and Clarks, bravely foraging in the urban wilderness, (I got their Northwest Passages rite here), scouring for old properties to renovate, communities to turn around. All the time knowing that soon after their little stakes are claimed, stuff starts jumping off all around them. And in 5 years or less these little trailblazers gonna sell these properties and move to a loft downtown or a real nice home in the Montrose or West University.
I tell you there’s more of them Laws riding up and down Dowling than when the Republicans came here in ’92. And my boys from solid waste getting worked like Hebrews… and I don’t mean under Nebuchadnezzar, I’m talking about under Phᾱraoh! Little Amp and Prevost stopped by last week after they had come from fishing, brought me some nice sized crappies. They told me they been working close to 60 hrs a week for the last three months. All this new construction in and around 3rd Ward, lot of money being put in here.
I remember when them dope fiends use to shoot up leaning on those low swinging branches of them old live oaks in Baldwin Park. Use to pack my pistol walking past there going to Paradise. Now you got a dog park and young mothers pushing baby carriages late in the evening. Tell you the main culprit, quiet as kept, that METRO Rail ain’t nothing but a pipeline to help bring in that change. As Downtown gets bigger, people want new places to party and shop and entertain, want to spend that money. Don’t know body want to drive no more. Want to walk like they in NY, everything within walking distance, work and play. So you see, they laying down two sets of tracks, one that’s above ground bringing in a new way of life. And another, that laid underneath all that ‘corrosion and them at-risk places’ to cart that out everything that don’t fit that image. Everything.”
Excerpt from an interview of Bukka Doopeyduk, longtime resident of Houston and writer Garry Reece.