Juneteenth represents a deeply significant moment in American history, especially here in Texas. On June 19, 1865 Union troops arrived in Galveston and announced to the more than 250,000 then-enslaved Black people in the state were now free, thereby marking the official end to slavery across the nation, despite the Emancipation Proclamation becoming effective in 1863, followed by the 13th Amendment.
Acknowledging that Midtown Houston was once part of the historic Third Ward and Fourth Ward communities, the Midtown Cultural Arts and Entertainment District was invited to join the citywide Juneteenth celebration led by the Third Ward Cultural Arts District and the Emancipation Park Conservancy. In honor of the newly designated federal holiday, Midtown and Fresh Arts hosted an open call and invited artists to submit their design ideas for a mural inspired by Houston’s historically Black neighborhoods, spotlighting Freedman’s Town (also referred to as Fourth Ward), Fifth Ward, Independence Heights, Acres Homes, Sunnyside, South Park, and Third Ward, for public display at Bagby Park located at 415 Gray St, Houston, TX 77002.
Local illustrator and creative designer Chris Robinson was selected from the applicants and commissioned for the project. His original artwork highlights the neighborhoods and each’s positive impact on Houston’s dynamic and distinct culture.
“I decided to tell a story of each neighborhood by acknowledging the past, present, and future of these beautiful Black communities. Overall, I wanted each neighborhood to stand on its own, and at the same time, tie into one another, representing the whole idea of celebrating Juneteenth. This was accomplished by using a color palette of red, green, black, and of course browns,” said Robinson.
The Midtown letters were transformed to represent the following:
M – “M” stands for Freedman’s Town, a tribute to the red bricks that line its streets, remnants of an era crafted by former slaves. This letter also honors the white shotgun houses, symbols of strength and resilience. Freedman’s Town has its own unique narrative, nestled within the historic Fourth Ward, forging another important connection to identity.
I – The letter “I” is a testament to Fifth Ward, with a captivating portrayal of the recently reopened DeLUXE Theater. Illuminating the past and embracing the present, this letter pays tribute to the remarkable journey of Fifth Ward.
D – Independence Heights, the first recognized black city in Texas, commands the spotlight with the letter “D.” It tells the story of a community rooted in religion, education, and shared human experiences. This letter also honors the legacy of George O. Burgess, the city’s first mayor.
T – Acres Homes, affectionately known as the “44,” takes center stage with the letter “T.” It showcases an illustration of Houston Mayor Turner, a proud product of this community. Acres Homes, characterized by its homes organized by acres rather than lots, retains a vibrant cowboy culture, where Houstonians can still be seen riding horses.
O – The letter “O” is a tribute to Sunnyside, celebrating the remarkable efforts of Ivy Farms and the Fresh Houwse Grocery. It shines a light on their dedication to providing fresh food in a community that has long been considered a food desert.
W – South Park, an essential part of Houston’s Black history, cannot be overlooked. The letter “W” pays homage to this vibrant neighborhood, renowned for its SLABS and car culture, showcasing its enduring cultural influence.
N – Finally, the letter “N” embraces the iconic Third Ward, a neighborhood celebrated not just in Houston but throughout the world. This letter showcases the unique elements that make Third Ward truly special, from Frenchy’s to Texas Southern University (TSU) to the legendary DJ Screw to the transformative Shape Center. As the last letter in the installation, it poignantly captures the essence of Juneteenth, incorporating key dates and a reference to Galveston.
Don’t miss this art installation by Chris Robinson, a visionary artist whose work is a testament to the power of storytelling and resilience. To delve deeper into Robinson’s artistry, visit shopneverclosed.com. This installation will be on display at Bagby Park until July 7, 2023.