The iconic sign welcoming Houstonians to the city's Midtown district has been given a new makeover in honor of Juneteenth thanks to local artist James E! Walker.

The big picture

Walker's work, commissioned by the group Midtown Houston, is titled "Dear Grandma," and serves as an homage to Opal Lee, a retired teacher, counselor and activist who led efforts to make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday in the U.S. The work can be found at Bagby Park, 415 W. Gray St., Houston.

A closer look

The installation plays out over the seven letters of "Midtown" found on the lawn space of Bagby Park, each letter varying in height from eight to 11 feet. The letters often receive different artistic treatments to honor, celebrate or commemorate different occasions, including a whimsical design in 2022 to commemorate the 15th anniversary of Midtown Art in the Park and, most recently, a musical design in April to celebrate National Jazz Appreciation Month.

Each letter of the Juneteenth installation holds its own meaning within the larger piece, according to a June 11 news release from Midtown Houston:
  • "M" features Lee's likeness with the words "Dear Grandma," as well as imagery of Galveston Island, where 2,000 Union troops arrived on June 19, 1865, to announce that 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas were free.
  • "I" is designed to highlight Lee’s reflection on challenges faced during her own childhood, which included a mob attack on Juneteenth that destroyed her home.
  • "D" is used to represent the 1865 delivery of the Emancipation Proclamation to Texas.
  • "T" depicts a clenched fist in acknowledgment of the Juneteenth Jubilee and symbolizing progress.
  • "O" uses imagery to symbolize the journey of enslaved people from the days of picking cotton.
  • "W" depicts the tower of the U.S. Capitol building, representing Lee's dedication to have Juneteenth become a national holiday.
  • "N" depicts a broken chain and is meant to serve as encouragement toward continued progress as well as vigilance.
What they're saying

“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,” Walker said in a statement.