Naked City

Edwards Exiled to Galveston

The Texas Emancipation Juneteenth Historical Commission's July 6 meeting was bumrushed by the gregarious Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. Ellis, an ex-board member, was concerned that the centerpiece of a five-statue sculpture commemorating the end of slavery – "The Lawmaker" – bears an uncanny resemblance to Rep. Al Edwards, also a Houston Democrat and, by coincidence no doubt, chair of the Juneteenth commission and longtime advocate of the statue, planned for the Capitol grounds. "[I don't know] whether or not one of the statues looks like you. I haven't looked at you up close," said Ellis, adding coyly, "I hear rumors."

"The Lawmaker" certainly appears to share Edwards' lanky frame, closely-cropped hair, and some facial features, though not the hangdog expression he was wearing this particular day. "That was a drawing that the media picked up and ran with. That looks nothing like the marquee that they drew up," Edwards said. Ellis said he only hoped to prevent "a tribute to our tortured history end[ing] up with somebody making jokes."

Passing around a miniature bronze mock-up of the statue, Edwards said to Ellis, "People could say it looks more like you."

"Because I got a beard?" Ellis replied.

Peering closely at the statuette's feet, the always fashionable Ellis exclaimed, "These look like Bruno Maglis to me."

With the sculptor, Eddie Dixon, unavailable, artist Adrienne Rison-Isom took the stand to dispel additional rumors: that her "Exhilarated Woman" figure resembles Juneteenth Commission member Stella Roland. Rison-Ison said she did not model her "Exhilarated Woman" after any one individual, but used several women from Ebony magazine. She was incensed not only about that, but about broader problems as well. "I'm very, very disappointed [in] the way this project has been made so negative," said Rison-Ison, alluding to a graphic that ran in the Statesman of a proposed free-slave figure, "half-naked in chains." "Golly, that's how we oughta have a black man looking," she said bitterly.

"Historically, its been said that all African-Americans look alike," said commissioner Byron Miller of San Antonio, striving to give the discussion some context. "When an African-American is accused of a crime, they pick up every brother on the street." Weighing in on "The Lawmaker"'s likeness, Miller said, "the statue does not look like Al Edwards, other than this little goatee."

Eventually, the commission dampened the controversy by voting to request a redesign of "The Lawmaker," and to put that figure on permanent display in Galveston, instead of with the rest of the ensemble, which will eventually stand on the Capitol grounds.

Oops! The following correction ran in our July 22, 2005 issue: A "Naked City" item about Juneteenth sculptures to be placed on the Capitol grounds incorrectly spelled the name of artist Adrienne Rison-Isom. The Chronicle regrets the error.
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