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Juneteenth And America’s Failed Promise Of ‘Absolute Equality’
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Juneteenth And America’s Failed Promise Of ‘Absolute Equality’


GALVESTON ISLAND, Texas — The promise of “absolute equality” hangs in the air on Juneteenth, as the fight for voting rights continues, a federal anti-lynching law is stalled in Congress, and lawmakers in several states have banned teachers from discussing racism.

However, artist Reginald C. Adams has painted a 5,000-square-foot mural titled “Absolute Equality” adjacent to the site where Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 on June 19, 1865, informing the people of Texas that “all slaves were free.”

Granger and 2,000 soldiers arrived in Galveston, one of the most important economic and political ports in Texas at the time, and read the military order at the Osterman Building, which served as the Union Army headquarters in Texas. The announcement affected 250,000 enslaved people and came more than two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

“Public art is an opportunity to convey messages to a very broad and diverse audience, using color and design, which sugar coats a very bitter truth — which is the stain of institutional racism in America,” said Adams, who is based in Houston and runs a public art and design firm.

On June 19th, a public ceremony will be held to dedicate “Absolute Equality.”

On June 19th, a public ceremony will be held to dedicate “Absolute Equality.”.The mural depicts several vignettes to tell the story of America's journey to "absolute equality": Moroccan explorer Estebanico, the first person of African descent known to enter the American Southwest; a portrait of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; Granger with five soldiers, including

On June 19th, a public ceremony will be held to dedicate “Absolute Equality.”.The mural depicts several vignettes to tell the story of America's journey to "absolute equality": Moroccan explorer Estebanico, the first person of African descent known to enter the American Southwest; a portrait of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; Granger with five soldiers, including.a formalized paraphrase

On June 19th, a public ceremony will be held to dedicate “Absolute Equality.”.The mural depicts several vignettes to tell the story of America's journey to "absolute equality": Moroccan explorer Estebanico, the first person of African descent known to enter the American Southwest; a portrait of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; Granger with five soldiers, including.a formalized paraphrase.Colored Troops, who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War; Hotel Galvez, one of the oldest beachfronts in the South, to represent the island's resiliency; and a scene with a parade of people marching for justice.

On June 19th, a public ceremony will be held to dedicate “Absolute Equality.”.The mural depicts several vignettes to tell the story of America's journey to "absolute equality": Moroccan explorer Estebanico, the first person of African descent known to enter the American Southwest; a portrait of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; Granger with five soldiers, including.a formalized paraphrase.Colored Troops, who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War; Hotel Galvez, one of the oldest beachfronts in the South, to represent the island's resiliency; and a scene with a parade of people marching for justice..

“That scene symbolizes the now, and this notion that we are walking in solidarity, to the idea of absolute equality,” Adams said, adding, “As artists and designers, we also took a bit of creative license with the astronaut, which really serves as a prompt for what we would do in the future, given the issues of racism we are still confronted with today.”

“Absolute Equality” was created by Adams and five other artists known as the “Creatives,” who included Samson Bimbo Adenugba, KaDavien Baylor, Dantrel Boone, Joshua Bennett, and Cherry Meekins. It took 1,296 hours of labor, 27 working days, and 312 gallons of paint to complete.

The mural also includes the full written text of Granger's military order. (The original version was discovered just last year in the United States National Archives.) Much attention has been paid to the order's first line, a noteworthy proclamation worth celebrating — that freedom had come to all enslaved Black Americans.

Since its inception, the holiday has been celebrated by Black Texans, and it has become more widely known in recent years (there was a “Black-ish” episode; Apple added the date to its calendars; and former President Donald Trump infamously claimed he made Juneteenth very popular by deciding to reschedule a rally that had originally been scheduled for that day in Tulsa, Oklahoma.)

But the order's second line, which promises "absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property," embodies the work that remains to be done and what America still owes Black Americans. It was written by Maj. F.W. Emery, a man who despised slavery and was an editor of an abolitionist newspaper.

That is one point historian Samuel Collins III wishes to emphasize: the mural is only one component of the Juneteenth Legacy Project's efforts, according to Collins, one of the project's co-chairs. During my visit to the Juneteenth Legacy Project's headquarters, Collins led me just steps away from the mural to reveal a few exposed bricks behind what was once an exit sign.

“We are living in this American house, and as current citizens, we are on the deed, and it is our job to do the work to fix the house,” Collins explained. “The house has a cracked foundation, but some refuse to admit that the foundation was cracked, and we will have problems generation after generation unless we fix the cracked foundation.”

Collins, a Galveston County native, has an endless supply of historical facts on the tip of his tongue, and he is excited about the mural, but he also wants to use the national momentum surrounding Juneteenth to shine a light on the Galveston community.

The following year, he hosted his first Juneteenth celebration there, and artist Ted Ellis, whose work adorns the Juneteenth Legacy Project's headquarters, says it was one of the most comprehensive Juneteenth programs he had ever seen, with reenactors dressed up as Buffalo Soldiers, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass to help tell America's history.

“It was the former enslaved who chose June 19 as their freedom day, and we honor their memory by celebrating June 19,” Collins said. “It’s not about politicians or individuals today who have picked up the baton because it is popular. It’s about those who came before: our elders and ancestors.”

Collins isn't just looking back with the Juneteenth Legacy Project; he wants to spark a "Galveston cultural renaissance." In early June, about a dozen kids filled the headquarters for a daylong art camp, where they were creating paintings for a cultural exchange with Delaware residents. Ellis plans to take the art to Wilmington and share the story of Juneteenth there, as well as bring local hispanics.

The mural is part of what Collins refers to as an "outdoor classroom." Included in "Absolute Equality" is an augmented reality experience in which parts of the mural come to life online and take you to YouTube videos and other web-based content so viewers can learn more about the images depicted. Adams and the Creatives spent three days developing a community engagement strategy to ensure that m

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On June 19th, a public ceremony will be held to dedicate “Absolute Equality.”.The mural depicts several vignettes to tell the story of America's journey to "absolute equality": Moroccan explorer Estebanico, the first person of African descent known to enter the American Southwest; a portrait of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; Granger with five soldiers, including.a formalized paraphrase.Colored Troops, who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War; Hotel Galvez, one of the oldest beachfronts in the South, to represent the island's resiliency; and a scene with a parade of people marching for justice...According to Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz, a co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, the Juneteenth Legacy Project collaborated with the Nia Cultural Center to ensure that local organizations that have long been doing work in the community to celebrate Black culture and teach Black history were included in the initiative.

On June 19th, a public ceremony will be held to dedicate “Absolute Equality.”.The mural depicts several vignettes to tell the story of America's journey to "absolute equality": Moroccan explorer Estebanico, the first person of African descent known to enter the American Southwest; a portrait of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; Granger with five soldiers, including.a formalized paraphrase.Colored Troops, who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War; Hotel Galvez, one of the oldest beachfronts in the South, to represent the island's resiliency; and a scene with a parade of people marching for justice...According to Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz, a co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, the Juneteenth Legacy Project collaborated with the Nia Cultural Center to ensure that local organizations that have long been doing work in the community to celebrate Black culture and teach Black history were included in the initiative..Lorenz's family owns the retail space as well as the adjacent parking lot; she contributed funds to get the project underway.

On June 19th, a public ceremony will be held to dedicate “Absolute Equality.”.The mural depicts several vignettes to tell the story of America's journey to "absolute equality": Moroccan explorer Estebanico, the first person of African descent known to enter the American Southwest; a portrait of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; Granger with five soldiers, including.a formalized paraphrase.Colored Troops, who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War; Hotel Galvez, one of the oldest beachfronts in the South, to represent the island's resiliency; and a scene with a parade of people marching for justice...According to Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz, a co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, the Juneteenth Legacy Project collaborated with the Nia Cultural Center to ensure that local organizations that have long been doing work in the community to celebrate Black culture and teach Black history were included in the initiative..Lorenz's family owns the retail space as well as the adjacent parking lot; she contributed funds to get the project underway..The Nia Cultural Center is a Galveston nonprofit organization that prepares children to be “torchbearers toward progress” by assisting them “academically, culturally, mentally, and physically to attain productive futures.” It is led by Sue Johnson, whom Collins calls a “jewel of the community whose value is not measured in dollars and cents.”

On June 19th, a public ceremony will be held to dedicate “Absolute Equality.”.The mural depicts several vignettes to tell the story of America's journey to "absolute equality": Moroccan explorer Estebanico, the first person of African descent known to enter the American Southwest; a portrait of Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; President Abraham Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation; Granger with five soldiers, including.a formalized paraphrase.Colored Troops, who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War; Hotel Galvez, one of the oldest beachfronts in the South, to represent the island's resiliency; and a scene with a parade of people marching for justice...According to Sheridan Mitchell Lorenz, a co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, the Juneteenth Legacy Project collaborated with the Nia Cultural Center to ensure that local organizations that have long been doing work in the community to celebrate Black culture and teach Black history were included in the initiative..Lorenz's family owns the retail space as well as the adjacent parking lot; she contributed funds to get the project underway..The Nia Cultural Center is a Galveston nonprofit organization that prepares children to be “torchbearers toward progress” by assisting them “academically, culturally, mentally, and physically to attain productive futures.” It is led by Sue Johnson, whom Collins calls a “jewel of the community whose value is not measured in dollars and cents.”."

Lorenz and Collins had known each other for years, but they only started working together last June after she wrote an op-ed for the Galveston County Daily News in which she urged white people to “contribute to real emancipation” and discussed how the murder of George Floyd should be a critical turning point in the fight against systemic racism in America.

“What I like about this is that it depicts a monument that represents both the truth and hope,” Lorenz said, adding that the name “Absolute Equality” is loaded with hope.

Once the Juneteenth celebrations are over, Lorenz and Collins hope that there will be renewed energy to support community organizations that are working to build a better future for future generations, and Collins hopes that absolute equality will be manifested in real, tangible ways.

“I hope that my talents and abilities, as well as those of my children,” Collins said, “will eventually be rewarded at the same level that others are.” “We’re not looking for charity; we’re looking for equity and appreciation; we have contributed to society, and we should be rewarded for it.”

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