The Birthplace of Juneteenth, Galveston Island holds a special place in the United States and African American history.
The richness of this island's history goes well beyond celebrating Emancipation. From being home to the first African American high school and public library in Texas to being the hometown of World Heavyweight Champ Jack Johnson, Galveston has long fought to preserve the knowledge of African American accomplishments and heritage on the island, holding dear the many historic sites and monuments that live on to tell the story.
pictured: "The Legislator" statue at Ashton Villa honors the legislation that made Juneteenth an official state holiday. The bill was sponsored by the late Representative Al Edwards.
Every year, Ashton Villa is the site where the Galveston community commemorates the reading of General Order #3 in Texas. On the property grounds stands the city’s official Juneteenth statue and marker, commemorating the day (June 19, 1865) in which the legislation made June 19th a Texas State holiday.
On that day, Union Major General Gordon Granger arrived on the island to command troops sent to enforce the emancipation of the slaves. Granger’s men marched throughout Galveston reading General Order No. 3 first at Union Army Headquarters at the Osterman Building (formerly located at Strand and 22nd Street) in the downtown historic district. Next, they marched to the 1861 Customs House and courthouse before finally marching to the “Negro Church” on Broadway, now named Reedy Chapel AME Church.
The order declared the slaves’ freedom and the celebrations that occurred were the starts of the Juneteenth holiday.
22nd St. and The Strand
The Osterman Building, although since demolished, served as the headquarters of the Union Army in 1865. General Gordon Granger first issued General Order No. 3 from this site, declaring all slaves in Texas were free.
22nd and Strand
The much-anticipated “Absolute Equality” mural, which illustrates the journey of Black Americans out of slavery into freedom, is the newest addition to Galveston’s rich history-focused attractions. The 5,000-square-foot mural, created by Houston-based Reginald C. Adams, was painted on the side of the Old Galveston Square building, located at 22nd and Strand in downtown Galveston.
The massive art installation is an initiative of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, launched during Black History Month 2021 to help raise awareness about Juneteenth and contribute to a growing push to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Juneteenth, or June 19, marks the day in 1865 that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 in Galveston, which ordered the freedom of more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state of Texas – one of the last groups of slaves to be freed in the United States.
Sam Collins, the co-chair of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, said the mural is bigger than art. “To finally see it become a reality gives me hope of a nation that’s more honest and more united,” Collins said. “This mural will help us expand the narrative of the Juneteenth story.” For more info, visit www.juneteenthlegacyproject.com.
This church was the last site along General Gordon Granger’s march through Galveston on June 19, 1865 to read General Order No. 3 and declare all slaves in Texas as free. It was also the site of early Juneteenth celebrations in which freed slaves marched from the county courthouse to the church, an annual tradition that is carried out to this day as part of the island’s Juneteenth celebrations.
1313 26th St.
A statue and historical marker honor the man who held the World Heavyweight Champion title from 1908 to 1915. John Arthur “Jack” Johnson was born in Galveston in 1879. He attended Galveston Public schools and in later years worked as a stevedore on the wharf. His boxing career started in Galveston with 113 fights, of which he only lost six. He left Galveston, traveled the world and amidst much controversy became the heavyweight champion of the world. He was a talented, clever, astute, and proud gentleman who was not afraid to date white women in a time when such scandal put an African American man’s very life in jeopardy. He was convicted for traveling across state lines with his white girlfriend but was granted a posthumous pardon in 2018. Johnson died in Raleigh, North Carolina, in a car accident in July of 1946.
2627 Ave. M
Texas’ first African American High School opened in 1885 with the influence of Norris Wright Cuney, a community leader. The first high school was in a rented building at 16th Street and Avenue L. In 1893, the Galveston School Board bought land between 26th and 27th streets on Avenue M and architect Nicolas Clayton designed the building. In 1924, a new wing was added to the building on the west side. This addition now houses the Old Central Cultural Center. The final Central High School Building was erected in 1954 and spanned from 31st to 33rd streets between Avenue H and Avenue I. Integration of Galveston’s public schools in 1968 merged Central High and Ball High Schools. The 31st Street building is now Central Middle School.
2627 Ave. M
The former annex to the old Central High School serves today as Old Central Cultural Center. “An annex to Central High School for a library for the Colored People of Galveston” was authorized by the Galveston School Board on May 18, 1904. A collaborative effort between the Rosenberg Library Association, the City of Galveston and the Galveston School Board became a reality on January 11, 1905. The library was moved to the wing added to the Central High School in 1924. The Clayton-designed main building is gone, but the annex, including the “Colored Branch” remains, and is now a museum and the home of the Old Central Cultural Center. It was the first African American public library in Texas.
718 41st St.
This park is a monument to the civic leader, politician, businessman and labor organizer whose mother was a slave. As a political leader on the island, Cuney was elected twice to the Board of Aldermen, representing Ward 12 on the east end of the island. He made it possible for African Americans to work as stevedores on the wharf. His political clout helped in the building of public schools for African American children. Many civic and social programs, including Juneteenth activities, are held at the park. A new building was erected in 2004.
3726 Ave. S
Galveston was one of the important cotton ports in the nation. Early African American waterfront labor traces its origin to the Typographical Union organized in 1857, the Screwmen’s Benevolent Association created in 1866, and the Lone Star Cotton Jammers of Texas chartered in 1889. The art of screwing cotton bales tightly into place, or cotton jamming, was developed to get as many bales of cotton as possible in the holds of the ships. The International Longshoremen’s Association Local #851 was chartered in 1913 and eventually absorbed the Cotton Jammers. The Cotton Jammers once owned a park at Avenue S.
28th/29th streets and Seawall Boulevard
African American beachfront businesses once clustered along this section of the island. Segregation extended even to the Seawall and beaches. Most African American activity was confined to this one-block area that included Gus Allen’s Villa, the Jambalaya Restaurant and the Manhattan Club. Gus Allen, an astute businessman, owned the buildings on the block and leased them to independent business operators. Albert Fease owned and operated the Jambalaya but leased the building from Allen.
3427 Sealy St.
The portraits of many outstanding African Americans from the city have been painted by E. Herron on the walls of the building.
Texas Seaport Museum, Pier 22
This marker commemorates enslaved Africans in Galveston during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as well as the millions of captive Africans who perished during the transatlantic slave trade known as the Middle Passage. Galveston was one of the 48 known ports of entry in the U.S. for enslaved Africans who survived the transatlantic crossing. The marker can be found at the Texas Seaport Port Museum at Pier 22.
Galveston is home to several historically African American churches that were organized more than 100 years ago and still serve the community today.
2612 Ave. L
This was the first African American Baptist Church in Texas. It grew out of the Colored Baptist Church that formed in 1840 as the slave congregation of the First Missionary Baptist Church. The church moved to the Avenue L site in 1855.
3009 Ave. M
This church was organized in 1870 as West Point Free Mission Baptist Church. The current building was erected in 1916 and completed in 1921 with donations from African American longshoremen. The Rev. John C. Calhoun, who served as pastor during this time, was instrumental in getting jobs for longshoremen on Galveston docks.
1027 Ave. K
A delegation representing the American Baptist Free Mission Society of Boston, an interracial antislavery group, founded the First Union Free Mission Baptist Church in 1870. It was the first church in Texas that the society organized. The Rev. Benjamin J. Hall, who served as pastor from 1878 to 1914, earned praise for his efforts to rebuild the sanctuary after the 1900 Storm and for enhancing the church’s role as the mother church of the Texas State Convention. The present structure was erected in 1955.
3602 Sealy St.
Mount Olive began in 1876 as an extension of Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church to meet a need for an African American church in the western area of Galveston. The original structure was destroyed in the 1900 Storm and rebuilt. The present sanctuary was completed in 1969.
The church was organized in 1883 on the corner of 30th Street at Avenue I as West Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church. As the church grew, it bought the property at 32nd and Broadway to erect a new building.
1223 32nd St.
Organized in the 1890s, Trinity Mission Baptist Church was an extension of the Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church congregation. The church was dormant for a few years but reopened in 2002 as Bethel Baptist Church.
In addition to its Juneteenth significance, this church was the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in Texas. In 1848, the Methodist Episcopal Church South established an African American church for its slaves. The trustees purchased land at 20th and Broadway to build a church. A fire destroyed it in 1885. In 1886, the church re-organized and a new building was completed in 1888. The building is a combination of gothic revival architecture and regional craftsmanship. Renowned church member Norris Wright Cuney laid the church’s masonry.
This congregation was organized in 1866 through a division of parishioners from the reorganized Reedy Chapel AME Church. The Saint Paul Methodist Episcopal Church congregation purchased property between 8th and 9th streets on Ball Street. In 1902, Saint Paul sold its property on Ball Street and purchased the land on 14th and Broadway, where the church is today. Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church emerged from the Saint Paul congregation.
902 28th St.
The Rev. Peter Cavanaugh organized the church in 1869 as an independent congregation. Church members met in a one-room house between 38th and 39th streets on Broadway. As the church grew, it bought the present location and the house was moved to the site. After losing church buildings to fire and the 1900 storm, the church leaders built a one-story building. It was remodeled in 1924.
1310 Martin Luther King Blvd.
In the 1860s, the Methodist Episcopal Bishop was notified that another African Methodist Church was needed in Galveston for people who lived west of 25th Street. In 1870, trustees for the congregation purchased the land at 1310 29th Street. Church buildings at the site had been destroyed by hurricanes in 1894 and 1900. The present structure was built in 1923 after the former building weakened. In 1971 it became the first African American church in Texas to get a state historical marker.
1410 41st St.
This was the first African American Episcopal Church in Texas. Saint Augustine Episcopal Church was organized in 1884 to minister to black Anglicans from the British West Indies. It is the oldest historically African American parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. The church was originally at 22nd Street and Broadway and moved to the present location in 1940.
1420 31st St.
This was the first African American Catholic Church in Texas. Bishop Nicholas A. Gallager started the first African American Catholic school in Texas in 1886. However, the church was not organized until December of 1889 when Father Phillip Keller, a native of Germany, was appointed the first resident pastor of Holy Rosary Parish. The original site for the church and other parish buildings was 25th Street and Avenue L. In 1914, they were all moved to the present location on Avenue N between 30th and 31st streets. The school closed in 1979 after 81 years of service.
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Sources: Galveston Historical Foundation’s African American Heritage Committee; Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau
Where the Texas Coast begins.
by Emerson Schreiner
by Samuel Collins III, CTA
by Visit Galveston
by Visit Galveston
by Clayton Kolavo
The Galveston Island Convention and Visitors Bureau (GICVB) is the official destination marketing organization for Galveston Island, Texas.