Juneteenth, Emancipation, Ashton Villa, and Charles Criner's Art
What Is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth has been an official Texas holiday since January 1st, 1980. It applauds the day when the abolition of slavery finally began to be enforced in Texas—June 19th, 1865. This celebration has spread to states outside of Texas as well, but it is not yet an official holiday everywhere. 14 of our 50 states do not recognize June 19th as an official holiday.
During the Civil Rights era, celebrations on June 19th waned slightly as the movement's focus shifted toward African Americans gaining more rights as citizens in the post-slavery age. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated in Texas and many other places across the United States with gatherings, parades, picnics, and other activities in good-spirited fun.
The Emancipation Process
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863, but it could not be enforced in places that were still embroiled in the Civil War. Certain states and territories were also exempted from the proclamation, as it only applied to the Confederate States that had not yet come under the Union flag.
While the proclamation was difficult to enforce, freed blacks were invited to join the Union's troops. Many did, which probably helped shorten the war between the states. Union state slaveholders were exempted, as were slaveholders in New Orleans, other nearby parishes, and some territories that had yet to become states. Many dates led up to the freedom for all of the slaves in the expanding U.S. and her territories. Assigning just one date to emancipation is hard to do.
A Short Timeline of Slaves' Freedom in the U.S.
- It started with the signing of the Lyons-Seward Treaty. That took place on April 7th, 1862, between Britain and the United States. It helped to suppress the trading of slaves.
- On September 22nd, 1862, the preliminary announcement of what would become the Emancipation Proclamation was first cited.
- On January 1st, 1863, some 100 days later, the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln went into effect.
- On November 1st, 1864, the abolition of slavery officially went into effect in the State of Maryland.
- The State of Tennessee followed suit early in 1865.
- On June 19th, 1865, slaves in Texas first learned of their freedom.
- On December 6th, 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified by a sufficient number of states to go into effect.
- Later in December of 1865, the 13th Amendment became fully enforced. This was the month when slaves all across the United States finally gained their freedom. The state in which they resided no longer mattered.
What Is Ashton Villa?
Ashton Villa is a historic home in Galveston, Texas, that was one of the first brick structures ever erected in the state. It was the home to a successful businessman named Colonel James Moreau Brown and his family. It was constructed using slave labor in addition to the expertise of European artisans.
During the Civil War, Ashton Villa sometimes served as the headquarters of the Confederate Army, while at other times, the Union Army was headquartered there. Ironically (but perhaps fittingly), this home, which was built with slave labor and served as a Confederate Stronghold, was also the place where Texas slaves found out about their freedom. On June 19th, 1865, from the wrought-iron veranda of the three-story Victoria and Italian-style home, Union Army General Gordon Granger read aloud from a document titled “General Order Number 3” announcing that all slaves in Texas were now free.
Ashton Villa is now a part of the Galveston Historical Foundation and also serves as a home to the Galveston Island Visitor Center. It is a recorded Texas Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places. It is open to the public for tours and special events.
Who Is Charles Criner?
My husband and I have known artist Charles Criner for a good number of years. My husband was on the board of directors at the Printing Museum in Houston when Charles became the resident artist. I have written another piece titled "Charles Criner, the Heart & Soul of His Lithography Art."
Much thought and artistic talent go into each of Charles Criner's pieces of art. He creates many original lithographs and also paints, sketches, and draws. You can meet Charles Criner at The Printing Museum in Houston. The address is 1324 W Clay St, Houston, Texas 77019.
His Early Years
Charles shared the following story with me. From his early days, while still living at home, Criner’s artistic talents were apparent. Instead of spending time laboring in the fields along with most of the residents in the small Texas town of Athens where he was born, he was busy creating art images.
He celebrated Juneteenth with the rest of his family because his grandmother demanded it. Schools were not yet teaching the significance of that date, and he did not learn about it at home. Charles’ memories of the celebration include enjoying a picnic day, eating a Bar-B-Q meal, and drinking red soda water. Sometimes, dollars were tight. One bottle of red soda water would be shared and passing it around the table where he and each of his seven other siblings would take sips and tinge their teeth, lips, and tongues red.
Charles Criner did not know the enormous significance of the 19th of June back in those early days. He would learn about that later when he was in Galveston, Texas, and a friend pointed Ashton Villa out to him.
Discovering Ashton Villa
In the mid-1960s, when Charles was attending Texas Southern University, he was made aware of the significance of the red brick building at 2328 Boardway Avenue J in Galveston. What he learned that day would have a meaningful impact on his art from then onward.
The piece above, titled “Man Coming Out of the Water,” represents Charles Criner’s love of fishing. He has spent many of his leisure hours in Galveston and elsewhere pursuing that favorite pastime. His friend pointed out Ashton Villa to him on one of their fishing trips as they passed Broadway at 23rd Street. Broadway is one of the main boulevard streets leading into Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico's waters.
Heidelberg Printing Presses
Charles Criner was at the Printing Museum when Heidelberg Inc., headquartered in Germany, came to Houston to give a presentation of their world-renowned printing presses. Their history dates back to their conception in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1850. The quality of their presses continued to be improved upon through the years. Finally, they were considered superior to just about all of their competitors and claimed almost 50 percent of the market worldwide.
In 2005, representatives of that company came to Houston and set up some demonstration presses in the Museum of Printing History. One interested company from Japan wanted to know if they could reproduce fine art prints on their presses. That is when they approached Charles Criner asking permission to replicate some of his art. Permission was granted, and ultimately millions of dollars of printing presses were sold to Japanese interests as a result of that successful demonstration.
Criner's Juneteenth Posters
To express their gratitude to Charles Criner for the part that his art played in those press sales, representatives from Heidelberg agreed to print 2,500 posters for him free of charge each year. Heidelberg has kept that promise since 2006, and Criner has released free Juneteenth posters annually since then.
The photo at the top of this page was the very first image printed for Criner, and it is titled “Juneteenth.” It was created in 2005 and is a mixed media piece on paper. Charles has given the posters out free of charge to students taking tours of the museum as well as to other interested parties. The posters help publicize the importance and significance of Juneteenth and the freedom of slaves in Texas. His art reflects the black experience from his perspective and is an intentional attempt to keep Juneteenth history alive.
More of Criner's Juneteenth PostersClick thumbnail to view full-size
Were you aware of the importance and meaning of Juneteenth before reading this?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2020 Peggy Woods