Updated: Apr 6
News Release | The Juneteenth Legacy Project | February 1, 2021
Aim is to recontextualize Juneteenth as a pivotal moment in the arc of U.S. history, and retell the story of its genesis, and historical and contemporary relevance
Galveston (February 1, 2021)—In conjunction with the start of Black History Month in the United States, the Juneteenth Legacy Project formally announced the development of “Absolute Equality,” a 5,000 square foot mural and massive storytelling space in Galveston, on the site of the genesis of Juneteenth.
In 2020, nationwide protests against racism and police brutality gave new urgency to Juneteenth, a holiday long-cherished by Black Americans—an observance of resilience in a centuries-old journey.
Juneteenth commemorates the proclamation issued by Union Army General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, ordering the freedom of more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas.
Rendering of Juneteenth Absolute Equality Mural by Artist Reginald Adams.
Juneteenth is now observed annually on June 19, celebrating the emancipation of those enslaved in the United States, with varying degrees of official recognition. The U.S. Congress has yet to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had officially outlawed slavery in Texas and other states at war with the Union on January 1, 1863. However, Lincoln’s proclamation had little impact on Texans at that time due to the small number of Union troops available to enforce the law. Enforcement of the declaration generally relied on the advance of Union troops due to continued rebel resistance.
The permanent art installation, “Absolute Equality,” will be dedicated on June 19, 2021, Juneteenth’s 156th anniversary, in Galveston. The words in General Order No. 3, "absolute equality," will be prominently included in the art installation’s graphics—words that offered hope and opportunity to the millions of newly freed people in the Southern United States.
The project aims to recontextualize Juneteenth as a pivotal moment in the arc of U.S. history while properly telling the story of its genesis, and historical and contemporary relevance.
One of the project’s desired outcomes is that June 19 shall be designated a national holiday by the United States Congress. Texas (1980), New Hampshire (2019), New York (2020), and New Jersey (2020) have adopted Juneteenth as a state holiday. Forty-four states and the
District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a ceremonial holiday.
Mrs. Opal Lee is the Juneteenth Legacy Project’s honorary national co-chair. According to The New York Times, in 2016, at the age of 89, she decided to walk from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., in an effort to get Juneteenth named a national holiday. She walked two and a half miles each day to symbolize the two and a half years that Black Texans waited between when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, on Jan. 1, 1863, abolishing slavery and the day that message arrived in Galveston, where black people were still enslaved, on June 19, 1865.
“The Juneteenth Legacy Project will serve as a platform for illuminating and amplifying a complete story of Juneteenth—helping make the invisible visible and giving voice to the voiceless—remembering and celebrating the contributions of Black freedmen and formerly enslaved people who fought for their freedom and the freedom of others,” Sam Collins, a historian and co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, said.
“Juneteenth is not about enslavement and suffering,” Collins said. “Juneteenth is about a spirit of renewal that celebrates freedom and opportunity. Absolute equality is not about equal results but about creating a society that supports all to become their very best selves to benefit the collective community.”
World-renowned, Houston-based artist Reginald Adams is creating the massive art installation, which will include augmented reality, an interactive experience that will enrich the visitor experience. Adams and his team will create the permanent mural on the property that overlooks General Granger’s former headquarters, where he issued the historic proclamation.
The complete Juneteenth story.
The Juneteenth story has become somewhat romanticized, a heroic tale starring Granger, the white Union general, as the lead protagonist. But organizations such as the Juneteenth National Observance Foundation have uncovered a little-known element of that narrative: the presence of several Union regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) that, by coincidence, marched into Galveston at the same time as Granger. These actions provided a powerful image to the island’s enslaved people, who were oblivious to the fact that they had been granted freedom by Lincoln two years prior.
It’s also important to note that many historians dispute that Granger read the orders to the public during a ceremony at Ashton Villa in Galveston. Many argue that, although Granger issued the orders, there was no public ceremony in Galveston. As the commanding officer, his position was to simply come ashore and order his soldiers to disperse throughout the town and countryside, advising slaveholders that their slaves had to be freed immediately, and enforce the order.
The text of General Order No. 3 was circulated and reprinted in a number of newspapers and other sources. One of the earliest was the Galveston Tri-Weekly News, which printed General Order No. 3 on June 20, 1865, the day after it was issued. On July 7, 1865, The New York Times printed General Order No. 3 among a series of other recent general orders issued by Granger, which the news organization described as "interesting news from Texas" under the headline "THE SLAVES ALL FREE."
Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (Amendment XIII) to the U.S. Constitution abolished chattel (personal property) slavery nationwide on December 6, 1865. It came after the surrender of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The African American Civil War Memorial commemorates the military service of hundreds of thousands of Civil War era Black soldiers and sailors. Etched into stainless steel panels of the memorial are names identifying 209,145 United States Colored Troops who responded to the Union's call to arms. In 1865, President Lincoln said, "Without the military help of the black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won".
The Juneteenth Legacy Project’s art installation and storytelling space.
“’Absolute Equality” will reimagine an approach to monuments and memorials to reflect the nation’s diversity better and highlight a story that was extensively buried or marginalized until 2020,” the project’s artist, Reginald Adams, said. “The storytelling space will give form and narrative to the beautiful, extraordinary, and powerful multiplicity, representative of one of America’s most influential and essential stories.”
The 5,000 square foot art installation will display four portals depicting an evolutionary narrative, including enslaved Africans being marched onto ships (including Esteban, the first nonnative enslaved person, who arrived shipwrecked on Galveston Island in 1528); Harriet Tubman, the leader of the Underground Railroad that ferried enslaved Black people to freedom north of the Mason-Dixon line; Abraham Lincoln holding the Emancipation Proclamation; and most notably, Granger issuing General Order No. 3 on Juneteenth, flanked by Black Union soldiers. Significantly, the words in General Order No. 3, "absolute equality," will be incorporated into the installation's graphics.
Adams will create the permanent installation on the east elevation wall of the Old Galveston Square Building that overlooks the site (the former Osterman Building located at 22nd Street and Strand) of General Granger’s headquarters. Mitchell Historic Properties, the family of the late Cynthia and George Mitchell, owns the property. George Mitchell, a renaissance businessman and philanthropist (Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation), was a native of Galveston.
Currently, there is a simple plaque commemorating Juneteenth on the site where Granger issued the orders. The Juneteenth Legacy Project intends to sustain the art installation in perpetuity—one that provides a true legacy.
Galveston Island’s path forward.
Another intent of the Juneteenth Legacy Project is that “Absolute Equality” will help shine a light on Galveston, serving as a platform for telling the story of the island’s path forward—a community defined by diverse voices and collaborative growth.
Sheridan Lorenz, co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project and a driver of the project, said, “This Galveston landmark—at the genesis of Juneteenth—will serve as a special space to reflect and expand our knowledge in a very public place, celebrating freedom, opportunity, and absolute equality for all.
"We’re confident ‘Absolute Equality’ will serve as an iconic visitor destination and educational landmark in Galveston for school children, the greater community, and visitors from all over the world,” Lorenz said.
About The Juneteenth Legacy Project organization
The Juneteenth Legacy Project (JuneteenthLegacyProject.com) is a Galveston-based nonprofit corporation (501c). Sam Collins is its president, and Steven Creitz and Sheridan Lorenz are vice presidents. The Galveston-based Nia Cultural Center is the Juneteenth Legacy Project’s fiscal sponsor, accepting tax-deductible donations on behalf of the organization.
Opal Lee is the Juneteenth Legacy Project’s honorary national co-chair.
Juneteenth Legacy Project co-chairs.
Juneteenth Legacy Project committee members
Nick Barbee Galveston Cultural Arts Commission
Shanice Blair The Future is Us
Angela Brown Galveston Sustainable Communities Alliance
Paul M. Courville F.E.A.R. Mentorship Program
Steven Creitz Trustee, Galveston Park Board
Dominic Etienne American National Insurance Company
Torrina Harris The Future Is Us, Vision Galveston
Dwayne Jones Galveston Historical Foundation
Karla Klay Artist Boat
Grant Mitchell Mitchell Historic Properties
Lori Mitchell Mitchell Historic Properties
David O'Neal Galveston Independent School District board
Hank Thierry The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
For additional information about the Juneteenth Legacy Project and to schedule an interview, contact Brett Holmes at (713) 244-4178 or firstname.lastname@example.org.