America’s London embassy marked Juneteenth with a painting and passionate D-I-Y

Anecdotally, the ambassador delivered a speech because of the volume of RSVPs for the event
Jason Askew's new painting on Juneteenth went up on the walls of the US embassy London just days before the event. All photos: Rashmee Roshan Lall

For the Juneteenth celebration, the US embassy in London had put up a painting, obviously specially commissioned. It portrays that moment, on June 19, 1865, when a black sergeant read out Major General Gordon Granger’s order in Galveston, Texas, proclaiming that slaves in Texas were free.

As I said before, it was a significant moment. It had taken two years to militarily enforce President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which  promised freedom to slaves in all parts of the Confederacy. And it would take another 156 years for Juneteenth to be recognised as a federal holiday with President Joe Biden signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in 2021.

The new painting proclaiming that Juneteenth moment of is executed by Jason Askew, an artist born in South Africa. He is described by Yessy art gallery as follows: “a specialist in military and historical Artwork…His paintings grace the walls of several regimental collections, including the Brigade of Gurkhas, the Staffordshire regiment, the 2eREP-French Foreign Legion, Corsica, and the Coldstream Guards. He was an official war artist attached to the Staffordshire Regiment in Iraq (Kut-al -Amara) in 2005. Several of his first world war pictures have been purchased by Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.” I notice from Yessy’s listing that Mr Askew has previously executed a commission for the US Embassy in Pretoria, so he was presumably known to American Foreign Service Officers.

Anyway, Mr Askew’s Juneteenth painting for the US embassy in London had gone up on the walls just days before the public event to mark Juneteenth, I heard anecdotally.

Indeed the attempt to mark Juneteenth appeared passionate – the result of a number of black diplomats’ efforts – rather than produced and paid for by this embassy’s powers-that-be. For example, food and drink was available to purchase, in a clear sign this event did not (at least, yet) have official buy-in. (In fact embassy tchotchkes were on sale too.)

Anecdotally, the ambassador turned up and delivered a speech this year (unlike the last) because of the volume of RSVPs for the event.

It takes time, as I said before, to create national rituals of celebration and commemoration.

Then again, there are many who ask if it is appropriate to mark Juneteenth. Is it even the historically accurate day to celebrate the emancipation of all slaves in America? We’ll look at that next.

Also read:

Juneteenth 2023 at the US embassy, London: It takes time to create national ritual