Galveston Unpacks Juneteenth History With New Downtown Mural
On June 19, 1865, in downtown Galveston, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which demanded “absolute equality” among enslaved people and slaveholders.
That day, which led to the liberation of enslaved people across Texas, is now celebrated as Juneteenth.
Now a new 5,000-square-foot mural marks the spot where General Order No. 3 was issued. It faces a parking lot that was formerly Union soldier headquarters at the corner of Strand and 22nd streets.
Public artist Reginald C. Adams and his creative team painted the mural — which includes several scenes, or “portals” — in less than a month. Large painted words at the bottom read "Absolute Equality" — the mural's name.
The most prominent portal features Granger. Behind him stand Black Union soldiers, whose faces portrayed in the mural are actually based off the artistic team’s.
“With that issuance of General Order No. 3 came thousands of soldiers, Union soldiers, many colored soldiers that essentially spread throughout Texas, spread out this part of the area to force slave owners, property owners, human traffickers to release more than 250,000 enslaved Blacks throughout the state of Texas,” Adams said.
The scene is a favorite for Samuel Collins III, who’s taken lead on the project as a historian and co-founder of the Juneteenth Legacy Project.
“It's not a piece of paper that freed the enslaved people of Texas,” said Collins, who has been attending Juneteenth celebrations in Galveston since he was a kid. “It was the men with the guns who arrived in the blue uniforms, 75% of them being in Black bodies.”
“These patriots that helped to save America, that helped to save the Union and helped to bring Texas back into compliance under the American flag, they have for too long been left out of the story,” Collins said.
On private tours, Collins helps visitors dive deeper into the Juneteenth history inside the Juneteenth Legacy Project headquarters, the Old Galveston Square Building, on which the mural is painted.
“Individuals have been able to come inside and see the art exhibit and hear more of the story,” Collins said. “Because behind the paint and the plaster are the bricks that were laid by the enslaved individuals for the building, and the fingerprints of those enslaved are in some of those bricks.”
Collins said he's ecstatic about how Juneteenth's legacy will grow with this project — and he's excited about it becoming a national holiday.
“This story is too important to be kept a secret, and it's too important to the healing of America and to the repair work that needs to be done so that we can be a better country going forward,” Collins said.
The Old Galveston Square Building is owned by the family of Sheridan Lorenz, the other co-founder of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, who also provided seed money for the mural.
Collins reached out to her last Juneteenth after she wrote an op-ed for the Galveston Daily News in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Lorenz, a white woman, wrote in the op-ed that white Americans must stop being “complicit” and fight to heal social inequities.
“(Collins’) inspiration to do this just fell in my lap,” said Lorenz, who quickly agreed to help get the mural started.
The Juneteenth Legacy Project has also promoted education through an art and literacy contest for area schools. And they invited art students from nearby La Marque High School to participate in the mural, like 18-year-old DaMarques Hurte who spent a day with the muralists.
Hurte and other students met with the project’s artistic team and were taught Juneteenth history, performed in a drum circle and learned “sacred geometry” — geometric drawings with symbolic meaning — that now makes up a section of the Juneteenth mural in Galveston.
“I'm really proud of myself that I got to do that,” said Hurte, who is also one of the winners of the Juneteenth art contest. “That's something that I think I'm going to remember forever.”
Even on a slow-moving weekday, the mural turns heads in Galveston.
During the month his team was painting the mural, Adams said he and his artists received loads of praise.
“On weekends there would be hundreds of people taking pictures, taking selfies, shouting us out, people honking,” Adams said. “To receive that kind of affirmation of what you're doing, it's just a beautiful feeling.”
Adams said he hasn't received any negative feedback — even though it may ruffle feathers of some Southerners.
“There's people with Confederate flags on their storefronts to this date, on this street, step foots away from here,” Adams said. “So do they buy into this whole picture? No. But do they buy into the beauty of it? Absolutely.”
Copyright 2021 Houston Public Media News 88.7. To see more, visit Houston Public Media News 88.7.