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To commemorate Juneteenth, Alveda King takes 'freedom tour' of Maryland

Mirror shards covered the edges of the picture frame. Brush in hand, the Rev. Dr. Alveda King dabbed the edges with black paint, nodding in approval at the work of a child sitting across the table.

“This is so therapeutic, I could do this all day,” said King, the niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But the hourlong visit Saturday to Baltimore arts nonprofit Art With a Heart was just the first stop in a packed daylong “Freedom Tour” for the Atlanta native. In a schedule coordinated by the Maryland Republican Party to commemorate Juneteenth, King, a pro-life activist and Fox News contributor, was set to appear at Morgan State University, then a church and later a children’s book reading at the Annapolis City Dock.

“The Republican Party has a strong civil rights tradition, beginning with the founding of our party,” said Nicolee Ambrose, who helped organize the event along with the Douglass Leadership Institute. In 2015, King came to Baltimore to participate in a series of NAACP events with support from the Republican Party.

Juneteenth celebrates of the freeing of America’s last slaves on June 19, 1865. It took more than two years for word of emancipation to travel to parts of Texas after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

“We didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, even TV,” said King, 68, who broadcast her appearance to her followers on Facebook Live as she painted.

Other events to honor Juneteenth are planned throughout the state. Next Saturday, Easton’s Academy Art Museum will host a Juneteenth program honoring black music throughout history. In Darlington, re-enactors will portray Harriet Tubman and the Buffalo Soldiers.

On Wednesday, Baltimore native Ta-Nehisi Coates will testify before a House panel on reparations for slavery. King said she supports some form of communitywide reparations for African-Americans as well as for other ethnic groups. “We’ve been passed over,” she said.

Unlike many of her relatives, who have been critical of President Donald Trump, King has regularly defended the president, who appointed her to the Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Commission. An evangelical Christian, she has also been outspoken in her support of conservative priorities such as ending abortion. She told a reporter Saturday that despite the ending of slavery, “There’s still a class of people who are not free — that’s the babies in the womb.”

Politics appeared to be far from the minds of most who attended the event, including Columbia resident Tiffany Janvier, who brought her three children: Alexa, 14; Kristin, 13; and Noah, 3. The family had found out about the event through a friend and came for the art, Janvier said.

“We really are focused on the work that we do here, and highlighting our work with underserved communities,” said Yolanda Jenkins, Art With a Heart’s deputy director. The organization brings art classes into places like schools and community centers, and also sells artwork and crafts made by students. The mosaic frames that King helped paint, Jenkins said, would head to a fundraiser in New York to support homeless youth.

Jenkins led King on a tour of the nonprofit’s offices inside Mill No. 1, previously home to Evergreen Health Cooperative. Big windows open onto a scenic stretch of the Jones Falls; an enormous beaten-up door remains from the old building’s cotton mill days. A picture hanging on the wall captures a 5-year-old Art With a Heart student, his mouth forming an “O” at the shock of realizing that blue paint and yellow paint make green.

“Ah, discovery, discovery,” King laughed when she saw the picture. A longtime arts lover, King told students, “I have a confession. The extent of my art activities now are going to sip and paint.”

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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