Updated: Apr 6
Angela Wilson | The Galveston Daily News | March 16, 2021
GALVESTON—Artists have been hard at work since March 9 in downtown Galveston on the much-anticipated “Absolute Equality” mural, which will illustrate the journey of Black Americans out of slavery into freedom.
The 5,000-square-foot mural is on the side of the Old Galveston Square building, 22nd and The Strand. It sprang from the Juneteenth Legacy Project, officially launched Feb. 1 during Black History Month, to help raise awareness about Juneteenth and contribute to a growing push to make Juneteenth a national holiday, organizers said.
Juneteenth, or June 19, marks the day in 1865 that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which announced that, in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation, “all slaves are free.”
Senators John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, filed bipartisan bills Feb. 25 to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Cornyn has been the lead author of a resolution honoring Juneteenth annually since 2011.
“The freedom of all Americans, which Texas celebrates every Juneteenth, should be celebrated all across the nation,” Cornyn said.
“A federal Juneteenth holiday would represent a big step in our nation’s journey toward equality.”
Opal Lee, 94, also has been collecting signatures and holding walks across the country advocating to make Juneteenth an official holiday.
She traveled to Galveston in September 2019 to walk, and she’s also an honorary national co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project.
“I’m one happy old lady,” Lee said. “People didn’t know this history and lots and lots still don’t know the history. I see Juneteenth as a unifier for our country.”
The six-member team of artists, led by Houston-based artist, Reginald C. Adams, is working on a colorful mural depicting different eras of history including the Underground Railroad, Black Union soldiers, explorers and the signing of General Order No. 3.
Since the artists have begun painting, crowds have gathered daily to watch the group paint, Adams said.
“It’s been amazing to see people stop and stare and pull out their phones to watch history unfold,” Adams said. “I love what I do and it’s just beautiful to inspire people. It’s been a joy putting on a show for the public around such a historic event. Galveston deserves this.”
Along with the mural, the committee also will have an augmented reality platform, created by Adams and Danny Asberry El, around the mural in which visitors will be able to download an app and move their smartphones over the mural to connect with links to videos and additional historic information, organizers said.
Asberry El, a Moorish American artist and performer from Houston, has worked on several augmented reality projects. His involvement in the Juneteenth mural is two-fold, he said.
One is celebration of “Estevanico,” a Morroccan man enslaved by a Spanish nobleman who took part in the exploration of North America and was shipwrecked for a time on Galveston Island.
“In regard to Estevanico the Moor, properly known as Mustafa Azemmouri, there were currently no known depictions of his image during the time he shipwrecked into Galveston,” Asberry El said.
“Since Adams knew my ethnic background and nationality, he saw it fitting to use my likeness to capture this important ancestor,” he said.
“We’re so excited to be a part of this wonderful experience and the opportunity to be a part of history.”
The mural is set to be complete by Juneteenth 2021, Adams said. To keep up with progress, visit juneteenthlegacyproject.com.
“This mural represents much more than paint on a wall,” said local historian Sam Collins, co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project. “To finally see it becoming a reality gives me hope of a nation that’s more honest and more united. This mural will help us expand the narrative of the Juneteenth story.”