'Absolute equality' and joy like a day in June

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

Jaundrea Clay | Houston Chronicle | February 12, 2021



It was a cold, blustery February day in Galveston, standing in the parking lot of the Osterman Building at 2211 Strand.


The day was in sharp contrast to what was likely a sweltering, humid day on June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston first learned they were free — in that very same spot.


“Welcome to the past, the future and the right now,” my de facto tour guide and Galveston historian Sam Collins III half opined. I could only nod in reply as I stared at the mostly blank 5,000-foot gray wall that will serve as the canvas for the Juneteenth Legacy Project’s “Absolute Equality” mural, a living art installation that was officially introduced on Feb. 1 – the day in 1865 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery.


The commissioned mural project will be created by Houston artist Reginald Adams, with the expressed mission to not only elevate the narrative around the significance of “Black Independence Day” but to empower the storytelling of Black history.


The project is also a labor of love for Collins, who co-chairs the Juneteenth Legacy Project and serves on the board of the National Trust of Historic Preservation.


A grio incarnate, Collins has made it his life mission to re-examine Black stories as told by our history books – and to educate the curious like myself, who wandered into a news release that transformed into a new inspiration.


“The ancestors are watching,” Collins remarked at one point, a phrase that would be repeated throughout the day as he retraced the steps of the United States Colored Troops, African American infantry regiments that were ordered to deliver and enforce General Order No. 3, issued by Union Gen. Gordon Granger, that reads, in part:


...The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves…


I followed Collins from Old Galveston Square, to the Customhouse, then to Courthouse Square, all stops that the United States Colored regiments had to make to fulfill their official business.


Lastly, the troops came to what is now known as Reedy Chapel, but what was then the Colored Church on Broadway – a literal and metaphysical sanctuary with no name but a description, that would certainly have been known as a gathering place for Galveston’s enslaved – a place of power and of a semblance of agency where the tidings of freedom would ring purest.


Imagine being a Black infantryman in the Union Army and coming to the shores of Texas, the last defiant outpost of the Confederacy, to manifest liberty and a new tomorrow. Not sure what you’ll face, but carrying on, moving forward. Charting a new course for your people in a nation torn asunder.


As I followed Collins up and down the streets of Galveston retracing the USCT march on that day 155 years ago – a day so unlike this chilly day yet with a pall so painfully familiar – I imagined the type of purpose and hope that feels like dawn; I imagined a fear that weighed like chains and the heaviness of dreams deferred.


And I imagined joy like a hymn in the heat of June.


Today's edition looks at how four local universities are teaming up to elevate African and African American studies; how Lunar New Year celebrations adapt to challenging times; and how women outnumbering men in medical school is good for patients.