Galveston's only Juneteenth art gallery inspires next generation of changemakers

Rosie Nguyen Image
Thursday, June 20, 2024
Galveston's only Juneteenth art gallery inspires next generation
An area in Galveston where slave auctions used to be held and enslaved people raised buildings is now where the Black community is reclaiming its narrative and inspiring the next generation.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- On the same corner where Juneteenth was born nearly 160 years ago, a movement is taking place to inspire and foster the next generation of changemakers.

On June 19, 1865, at the intersection of the Strand and 22nd Street in Galveston, U.S. General Gordon Granger issued the order that all enslaved people in Texas were free, three years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

The area was where slave auctions used to be held, and buildings were constructed by enslaved people. But now, it's home to the Juneteenth Legacy Project Headquarters art gallery, which is located inside the Nia Cultural Center.

The vision was fueled by historian Samuel Collins III, who dreamed of a space using art and storytelling to teach the community about the fight of Black Americans for freedom and equality. He said the historical significance of its location allows Black artists to reclaim the narrative of their ancestors' stories and take back their power.

"In this block where individuals were exploited through slave trades and auctions, we now have a space where we can highlight the artists, allow them to sell their art, and benefit from their own labor. So where labor was exploited, it can now be rewarded, it could be celebrated," Collins said.

SEE ALSO: Tropical downpours won't stop annual Juneteenth celebration at Ashton Villa in Galveston

Zyhree Shatton, Makai Simpson, and Chaniya Brown are three of an estimated 500 students who have been through the gallery this year. Their visit left them wondering why they're not learning more about Black history in school.

"The land that I walk on, the pavement that I walk on, could have been a plantation before, and I would have never known. So it makes me wonder, 'What was this place or even all of Texas maybe 200 to 300 years ago?'" Shatton said.

An area in Galveston where slave auctions used to be held and enslaved people raised buildings is now where the Black community is reclaiming its narrative and inspiring the next generation.

Sue Johnson, founder and director of the Nia Cultural Center, believes the space is much more than just an art gallery. It also serves as a classroom without borders where difficult questions and critical thinking are encouraged and nurtured.

"I have to go back and think about how I would feel if I was a slave. What would I go do to preserve the little freedom and life that I had?" Simpson asked.

When guests walk through the exhibit, Johnson sees them reflect on the connection between the emancipation of enslaved people and the ongoing challenges for racial equity.

"This is a place where they can understand who they are, where they've been, and what they still must do. This gallery gives an opportunity to tell those stories that are left out of the history books," Johnson said. "I hope that people come here feeling inspired, dignified, and seen."

READ MORE: Galveston's Juneteenth celebration commemorates when last enslaved people learned of freedom

Collins hopes every person who comes through their exhibit will walk away with a better understanding of how their racial history can serve as a key to real societal change.

"It shows the struggles and trials that our ancestors have been through. They risked their lives for us so that we can now have an opportunity to do great in this world," Brown said.

The center has also become a place of healing, particularly for children from Black communities. He said the space affirms their identity in ways that textbooks have often neglected. It also lets them know that their heritage is not just about oppression but also one of profound strength and resilience.

"What we try to do is take the light of truth and light their torch. The more torches we light, the brighter the light can become to drive our darkness and ignorance," Collins said.

The gallery will remain open indefinitely after Juneteenth. It is free to the public and open six days a week, closing only on Mondays.

For more information, visit the Nia Cultural Center's website.

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