Art has always been a passion of Reginald Adams. From doodling comic book characters on the walls of his childhood bedroom, to dropping out of Texas A&M University his freshman year because his major of accounting was unfulfilling – Adams knew he was destined for a career in the arts.
Now, that love of art is making history as Adam’s creation of a mural commemorating Juneteenth in Galveston is receiving worldwide attention.
The 48-year-old, who lives in Third Ward said he first became aware of Juneteenth – the holiday that commemorates the day in 1865 when Black Texans first learned they were no longer enslaved – when he moved to Texas in the mid-1990s. At the time, he had no idea that he would one day immortalize that day in history through art.
Adams was commissioned to create the mural titled, “Absolute Equality,” and he’s working with other artists, students and community members to get a broad understanding of what Juneteenth means to Texans.
The project will tell the story of Juneteenth, and of centuries of enslavement in Texas, with “windows” into the past. The first window reflects on 1528, when an enslaved Moorish navigator was shipwrecked off the coast of Galveston. Other windows will reflect the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as the news of freedom coming to Texas two years later – the arrival of U.S. General Gordon Granger and declaration of Martial Law in 1865 freed 250,000 enslaved people in Texas.
READ: Juneteenth and its Texas Roots: https://defendernetwork.com/news/juneteenth-and-its-texas-roots/
“For enslaved Blacks in Texas, you couldn’t have told them that at some point they would be on the side of a wall, in a building that probably once traded slaves and here we are doing it,” Adams said about the mural located in Old Galveston Square. “On one hand, it told me, we have come a long way since 1865, and yet we have so much more work to be done because of the social and racial inequities that are a direct result of institutional slavery. It just speaks to the whole purpose and theme of the mural. I think until we arrive at that state where we treat and recognize each other equally, regardless of social economic, racial, cultural gender backgrounds, we’ll continue to have conflict. But as we choose to walk, more closely and align to that virtue of absolutely quality, I think then we’ll see a nation unified.”
In preparing to create the mural, Adams’ team, called “The Creatives” (Samson Bimbo Adenugba, Cherry Meekins, KaDavien Baylor, Dantrel Boone and Joshua Bennett) took a three-day retreat to Galveston. They rented a beach house and dissected just what the project would entail, from production to engagement strategies.
“We basically set up camp in Galveston for two months,” he said.
The first stroke of paint was applied on March 10. Twenty-seven days and 1,200 labor hours later, they had painted a 5,000 square foot work of art that now puts a face on 156 years of history in Galveston known as Juneteenth. Adams did some serious reflection before diving into the project.
“There was some soul searching that went into this project,” he said. “It was so different than a typical commission through either a community group or commercial entity and that it had to be accurate on so many levels. When you’re putting artwork out in the public realm, there’s absolutely no room for misinformation, especially if you’re trying to capture and depict a historical moment in time. And so it required a tremendous amount of research, homework, listening to the community leaders, listened to the local historians and doing our own background research to kind of fill in the gaps.”
It wasn’t the first time Adams was tasked with a huge historical art project. In 2019, Adams completed a project at Emancipation Park in Third Ward. The park is culturally significant as it was founded by four former slaves — Jack Yates, Richard Brock, Richard Allen and Elias Dibble — who collectively came up with $1,000 to purchase four acres of land in celebration of Juneteenth. It’s the oldest park in Houston and Texas.
The following year, Adams produced the “I Can’t Breathe” mural to honor of the loss of George Floyd.
READ: It’s Official! U.S. Senate Approves Bill to Make Juneteenth a Federal Holiday: https://defendernetwork.com/news/national/its-official-senate-approves-bill-to-make-juneteenth-a-federal-holiday/
“If honored and blessed and fulfilled and affirmed and happy, could all be wrapped up into one word, it would be me. This mural is literally in the heart of downtown Galveston.”
In fact, one busy weekend as they worked, Adams, who listened to reggae music as he painted, paused to take in all the tourists who had stopped to look.
“There was probably a hundred or so folks below us. We were working 30, 40 feet up in the air on these scissor lifts. And I turned around, just kind of pulling away from the work for a moment and saw how many people were down below taking pictures and videos and commenting. And it was very supportive the entire time. It was a moment of clarity when I kind of stepped outside of myself and realized, ‘Reginald, you are your ancestor’s wildest imagination’.”