Midtown Houston’s New Public Art Installation Honors the Grandmother of Juneteenth

In celebration of the 2024 Juneteenth holiday, local artist, James E! Walker’s artwork is now featured on the famous Midtown Houston sign at Bagby Park located at 415 Gray St, Houston, TX 77002. The installation, titled “Dear Grandma,” is an homage to Ms. Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” who spearheaded the freedom walk leading to Juneteenth becoming a national holiday in 2021.

In the artwork, Walker incorporated his unique style called “Abstrametrics,” characterized by bold, abstract, and geometric shapes and lines layered over photographs and collages. The chosen colors symbolize significant aspects of the Juneteenth journey: red for bloodshed and sacrifice, gold for courage and wisdom, green for growth and new beginnings, and brown for endurance and resilience. It captures the official 2024 Juneteenth Houston theme, “Road to Juneteenth,” and presents a vibrant and compelling visual narrative.

The letters in the Midtown Houston sign each tell a part of the Juneteenth story:

  • M: Represents Galveston Island, the starting point of the visual timeline, using red hues and grunge textures to symbolize the bloodshed and sacrifices of enslaved ancestors, and marking the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.
  • I: Highlights Ms. Opal Lee’s reflection on the challenges faced during her childhood, including a mob attack on Juneteenth. The extended “E” in “Freedom Day” forms a road with an arrow, symbolizing hope and resilience.
  • D: Marks the 1865 delivery of the Emancipation Proclamation to Texas, with the “lone star state” embedded inside the letter.
  • T:  Symbolizes progress and the breaking of mental chains, depicted with a clenched fist to acknowledge Juneteenth Jubilee.
  • O: Reflects the journey from the days of picking cotton, reminding us of the mental, physical, spiritual, and economic progress made.
  • W: Represents Ms. Opal Lee’s unwavering vision to see Juneteenth become a national holiday.
  • N: Encourages continued progress and vigilance, serving as a reminder to build upon the achievements and carry forward the legacy of our ancestors.

Midtown Houston, historically part of the Third Ward and Fourth Ward communities, continuously honors the legacies of these historically Black neighborhoods by sharing Houston’s powerful Black history. The artist said, “My goal for this commission was to search high and low within myself, and throughout the research and development process, to unpack a story that had not been told in the traditional Juneteenth fashion.” 

Midtown Houston continues to support art in every form, being a designated State of Texas Cultural Arts and Entertainment District since 2012. Known for its picturesque park spaces, cultural arts organizations, and impactful public art, Midtown Houston is proud to celebrate Juneteenth 2024 and honor the history and future of the community.