New Juneteenth mural is unveiled in Germantown, the first in Philadelphia
The new mural is located at Germantown ArtHaus.
MORE IN THIS SECTION
For the first time ever, Philadelphia has a Juneteenth-related mural.
On Saturday, June 17, a new 1,100-square-foot mural was unveiled outside of Germantown ArtHaus on the 6200 block of Germantown Avenue, designed by lead muralist and founder of Germantown ArtHaus, Keisha Whatley.
The mural commemorates Juneteenth, which honors June 19, 1865, the date that the enslaved individuals in Galveston, Texas, were notified of their freedom, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The mural includes three different levels, each honoring a different theme and aspect of the Black experience.
The lowest level is a representation of “where it all started,” in Africa. However, Whatley was very deliberate in ensuring that the art didn’t start with Black people being ripped away from their continent and having their resources stolen.
“I refused to create a mural that only started at slavery, because our story starts so, so, so far before,” said Whatley.
Instead, the lowest part of the mural features African warriors, astrologists, and everyday activities, like someone getting their hair done or children getting water from the river.
For Whatley, that level of the mural is “Africa in a nutshell: the everyday, and the extraordinary,” she said.
The next level includes representations of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, with the use of iconography.
“What was most important for me is that we’re not glorifying broken Black bodies,” said Whatley.
This level includes depictions, such as a diagram of how people were packed into ships, plants, and other forms of iconography.
“We wanted that level to tell the story without glorifying it or making it too exciting for folks who love to see us broken,” she added.
The next level is the Juneteenth level, and the story behind it.
This includes depictions of people picking cotton and working in the field, and masters on horses.
At the top, a group of six people emerge from a golden light with their heads held high, with soldiers from the United States Colored Troops beside them.
“I wanted to capture the moment enslaved people realized that they can walk out of their enslavement,” said Whatley.
Keywords like “liberty,” “family,” “freedom,” and “power,” hover over the images, while a Black Power fist snapping a chain is depicted on the side of the mural.
There are two additional levels that are expected to be completed in 2024.
For Whatley, the Juneteenth mural stands as one of the most rewarding projects she has ever worked on.
“Because I felt it was something I had to do,” she said.
Her sentiment was shared by Andre Chaney, one of the lead artists for the mural.
He noted that working on the mural helped him tap into something that he didn’t previously know he had.
“A lot of times, we have to tap into an external source of motivation because we’re not always at our greatest,” he said.
For him, he was able to find motivation from his ancestors, and the kings, queens, soldiers and freedom fighters of African descent who helped get him to this point today.
“I’m extraordinarily happy to be a part of history,” said Chaney.
While this is the first Juneteenth mural in the city’s history, he hopes that many more will soon be unveiled all over the city.
“It’s going to be a puzzle, and they’re all going to tell the collective story of us, and it’s very important that we continue to tell our story so that we are not shut out, so that we know what’s going on, so that our stories are told, and our history is told,” he concluded.
This vision will be aided as State Representative Stephen Kinsey announced a $5,000 commitment to build on this work.
“Let's keep it alive and take it to another place,” said Rep. Kinsey. “We don't have to wait for June 19 every year just to recognize and honor our ancestors, we can do this together. We are the difference makers.”