Mural, education project aims to capture significance of Juneteenth in Galveston and beyond

Updated: Apr 6

Keri Heath | The Galveston Daily News | February 1, 2021

When Sam Collins III drove past the corner of 22nd and Strand streets

last year, the big blank wall behind the plaque noting Galveston’s

unique significance in the history of Juneteenth caught his eye.


Within the next few months, regional artists will turn the wall that

overlooks Old Galveston Square into a vibrant mural that illustrates

the journey of Black Americans out of slavery and into freedom.


Juneteenth, or June 19, has long been celebrated as the date enslaved

people learned of their freedom in Texas. Project organizers hope the

mural and companion outreach campaign, known as the Juneteenth Legacy

Project, will raise awareness about the date and contribute to a

growing push to make Juneteenth a national holiday, they said.


The Juneteenth Legacy Project officially launched Monday after months

of preparation.



HISTORIC DAY


Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that the Union Army reached Galveston

and announced news of the Emancipation Proclamation, two years after

it was signed. Texas was the last state to learn the news.


The mural project will seek to capture that legacy, specifically the

idea of “absolute equality,” said Collins, who also co-chairs the

legacy project.


“Absolute equality is about giving everyone the opportunity to become

their very best self without hurdles or obstacles that will hold them

back so they can become their very best self for the benefit of the

collective community,” Collins said.


Collins began thinking this summer about national conversations about

displaying statues of Confederate soldiers, he said. Many argued

statues of Confederate figures or slave owners should be removed.


‘IT’S DIVINE TO ME’


Collins wanted to see more representation of Black historical figures

and stories, he said.


“How do we expand the conversation and the narrative around our

history?” Collins said.


Houston artist Reginald C. Adams will lead the team working on the mural.


Excitement brimmed in Adams’ voice as he talked about the project,

which he considers an extension of other art installations on which he

has worked.


“It’s divine to me,” Adams said. “This will go into the history books;

this will be written up in all types of journals.”


Adams also has worked on projects that celebrate Black history,

including a sculpture in Emancipation park in Houston.


The colorful, 5,000- square-foot mural will consist of different

sections that highlight different eras of history, including the

Underground Railroad, Black Union soldiers, explorers and the signing

of General Order No. 3, which informed Texans of emancipation.


‘GOOD WILL TO GALVESTON’


The committee also plans to create an augmented reality platform

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, Adams said.


It has planned other components to the project, as well, including a

literary contest for young people and a documentary about the making

of the mural, Adams said.


“This is going to bring a hyper focus to the island,” Adams said. “If

we do it well, it’s going to bring a lot of good will to Galveston.”


Galveston’s significance to Juneteenth became more widely known this

summer, when people around the country, including in Galveston County,

took to the streets as part of the Black Lives Matter movement to

denounce police brutality and demand equal justice. The protests came

in the wake of the May 25 death of Minneapolis resident George Floyd,

who was held down by officers, including one who put his knee on

Floyd’s neck.


Calls to make Juneteenth a national holiday grew this summer. Texas

was the first state to recognize the date in 1980.


“I don’t see how it doesn’t become a holiday now,” Collins said.

“There should be a celebration of freedom from June 19 to July 4.”


‘NOT JUST A TEXAS THING’


Fort Worth resident Opal Lee, who is in her 90s, has for several years

been walking through multiple cities across the country — including

Galveston — to raise awareness for the Juneteenth holiday.


Lee wants to see the holiday become nationally recognized, she said Monday.


“I’ve just been having the best time having Juneteenth celebrations,”

said Lee, an honorary chairwoman for the legacy project. “It’s not

just a Texas thing. There are 47 states that celebrate Juneteenth in

some form or fashion.”


The team also involves Mitchell Historic Properties, which owns Old

Galveston Square, and the Nia Cultural Center, a local community

nonprofit.


Adams and the team of artists should begin painting around March 1, he

said. The legacy committee hopes to culminate the many months of work

on Juneteenth.