Does Galveston Value Its African American History?
Disclaimer: the opinions stated in this commentary are my own and do not represent any organizational affiliation or business interest.
MY MEMORIES OF GALVESTON ARE INTERESTING TO SAY THE LEAST AND EVERY SWEET REMEMBRANCE, INDELIBLY MARKED ON MY HEART. As a B.O.I. (born on island), my roots on the island are deep, broad, and proud! Growing up, my wonder years happened in Galveston every summer, every holiday, and all family occasions in between. My whole world revolved around Stiglich corner store at 27th & Q, (where my sister and I bought penny candies, moon pies, and all the things 50 cents - $1 could buy) and the park across the street. My world view extended as far as I could see from the block of 28th & P½ to the Seawall. Pan over just to the left a block or two, picture me popping gum from the swing set at what is now McGuire-Dent Recreational Center, my uncle’s 10-speed Schwinn on the kickstand nearby, looking at the Flagship Hotel (now Pleasure Pier), plotting my next snack. My fun was completely funded by adoring grandparents, attentive aunts and uncles (generations of veterans), and myriad cousins. I pause to contemplate, what is the cultural value of my personal experience and rooted legacy - what is it worth to me? As I honor my family of patriots who have served in the armed services and explore the complete legacy of the United States Colored Troops (USCT), I am reminded of a debt this country still has yet to pay, most especially in Galveston. The history and the pride in the significance of African Americans on this third American coast dates irrefutably back to 1528, at the very least. The actual BIRTHPLACE of JUNETEENTH, Galveston will be spotlighted and celebrated worldwide. What is the value of our historical marker on the world?
Though I am incredibly enamored with the island, I can honestly address the glaring disparities. The influence of the United Daughters of the Confederacy continues to perpetuate a harsh legacy in educational disparities illustrated by the treatment of Galveston’s Black students. Moreover, the most egregious inequity is in the wealth disparities highlighted by the lack of value placed on African American land acquisition and Black Historical Art & Culture.
The roles of independent, enslaved, and liberated Africans in America are evident on every level of the development of this Democratic Republic, going back to the Haitians who aided in a war with our then fledgling collective of colonies to overcome Britain, garnering the beginning of the Independence we have come to enjoy today. Africans of the Diaspora did that! Where is the value being added today in honor of these legacies in the communities we have managed to preserve throughout the history of the world, but most especially in Galveston?
The minimization of the significance concerning Jack Johnson’s Legacy, and the historically black institutions connected to these legacies, illustrates this poignantly. Jack Johnson is an international treasure. This is not debatable. However, though there are two existing entities honoring him (a bronze and memorial marker located in the courtyard area of Old Central at the corner of 26th & Avenue M and ‘Jack Johnson the Galveston Giant’ by sculptor Earl Jones at 4321 Sealy Ave), there is no federal push for funding and protections, commensurate to our voting rights today, and therefore the true VALUE of the cultural worth has been left to be annexed or ignored. Seems Galveston has chosen the latter. In light of this disparity alone, funds should be allocated on every level - local, state, and federal - to invest in the value the local legacy of African Americans bring, not only to the immediate bottom-line of tourism dollars, but also a cultural wealth that has proven and will continue to prove rich, hearty, and evolving. Shoring up and establishing the community institutions that have not ever stopped doing invaluable work through civic engagement and continued grassroots programs serving and advocating in those spaces is paramount.
Mrs. Opal Lee (Fort Worth) is a shining example of how the inspiration of Juneteenth propelled her into her journey to influence legislation to make Juneteenth a PAID federal observance/holiday. Proof positive that every place that wants to commemorate Juneteenth should be provided the funding to do that, post haste, June 2022 is right around the corner. Because of the hard work that began in Galveston with the efforts of Al Edwards and the continued efforts of Sam Collins and the community, collaboratively and tirelessly working to preserve and expand this historical legacy, every citizen across the globe is encouraged to share in the celebration. Closing the financial gap in funding a more expansive Jack Johnson memorial should naturally provide a perfect segue into funding the upcoming Juneteenth celebration 2022, the first time the Commemoration will be federally (and globally) recognized ever, in Galveston! What is it worth to command the lens, correct the narrative, and facilitate commerce? There is a litany of missed opportunities in the last few years that are embarrassing for our city, however, allocating immediate funding to the current planning budgets, Galveston could show the world why the National Juneteenth Memorial and Museum could not ever be any place but where Juneteenth was born - Galveston Island, Texas! Think of the financial implications with the current countywide development. Include an opportunity to incorporate the added value of the Emancipation Trail, featuring the art of our local sculptors, painters, and the whole of support from the Black Arts Collectives everywhere, what would that be worth? Elevating the value of our community worth is the only genuinely equitable way to move forward in Galveston County or anywhere. We must promptly arrive at a place where we value one another as family and add value to our whole community by seeing the worth in one another, as neighbors. Support the funding of African American Monuments here and everywhere. Our legacy is the receipt. I love this little hunk of dirt and I add value by being here.
For more information on the importance of Juneteenth to Galveston and the liberation of Africans in Texas visit: www.JuneteenthLegacyProject.com