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Saturday’s unveiling of the Texas African American History Memorial at the Capitol could have been a somber occasion – a reflection on centuries of slavery and legalized oppression. Instead, it was a moment of rejoicing for the hundreds of guests, who celebrated how so many had overcome deep struggles and how the event appealed to a better future.

State officials and other special guests, including benefactors, revealed the memorial on the south lawn of the Capitol, a feat that comes more than two decades after lawmakers first pushed for the bronze and granite monument to African-Americans in Texas.

“This has not been an easy journey,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a former member of the Texas House who helped secure funding for the memorial. “And I’m not referring to the raising of money or to the construction of this monument. I am talking about the history of African-Americans of the state of Texas and where we are today.”

Turner said that while many often focus on current struggles, it’s important to look back and see how far the state and its residents have come.

The journey “began a long time ago in this state. And look at where we are today. I think that speaks volumes.”

The 27-foot high, 32-foot wide monument depicts Juneteenth – June 19, 1865 – when hundreds of Union troops arrived in Texas and announced the freedom of slaves in the U.S., along with major social, political and cultural icons in the state from years later. The structure also portrays the cattle, cotton and oil industries and black Texans’ role in advancing them. Ed Dwight, a Denver-based sculptor, proposed the monument to mark the history of black people in Texas, a history that pre-dates the United States.

Dwight had three jobs, said Bill Jones, chairman of the Texas African American History Memorial Foundation: create a memorial that is historically accurate, aesthetically pleasing and has emotional impact.

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Rep. Helen Giddings

A number of new officers were name to the Texas Legislative Black Caucus leadership on this week. Chief among them was the election of State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, as chairperson.

“I am honored to have the confidence of my fellow African American legislators to lead the Texas Legislative Black Caucus during this critical time for our state,” said Giddings. “The talents and skills of every member of the TLBC will be utilized to develop an agenda that builds on past successes and confronts the challenges of today.”

Now serving her 11th term, Representative Helen Giddings serves the cities of House District 109: Dallas, DeSoto, Cedar Hill, Glenn Heights, Hutchins, Lancaster, Wilmer, as well as part of Duncanville.

Rep. Helen Giddings has a longstanding reputation as being an ardent education and business advocate; and recently lent her concerns over the recently overturned Texas Voter ID law. The statute was struck down by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday.

“Today is a great day for Texas voters and Texas families. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed that Texas’ Voter ID law places an unfair and unconstitutional barrier to our democracy,” Rep. Giddings said. “I am thrilled the court declared the right to vote shall not be infringed.”

The stringent Voter ID law passed in 2011 has proven to be an enormous barrier to democracy for Texas’ most vulnerable communities, including college students, the working poor, and the elderly. Some estimates have indicated that up to 700,000 otherwise eligible Texans have lost their right to vote since the law was passed.

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