Take yourself on a journey through African-American history in Galveston with an island guide to many historic sites, monuments, historic Black churches, modern heroes, landmarks, and more.
When it comes to African-American history, Galveston is possibly best known as birthplace of the Juneteenth holiday.
Although President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation explicitly made slavery unconstitutional in the United States in 1863, it wasn’t until about two and a half years later—on Monday, June 19, 1865—that Union officers arrived at the Port of Galveston to read the order aloud to the public and enforce it.
Celebrations followed and the date became known as Juneteenth. It’s still celebrated and honored today in Galveston, Greater Houston, Texas, and many other states across the country.
However, details of the historic event and ceremonies that followed only begins to scratch the surface of African American history on the island. Many sites, monuments, churches, and landmarks dot Galveston’s historic downtown and can be visited at no charge.
Click here explore a detailed tour of Galveston’s African American history or to download a copy of the guidebook Galveston’s African American Historic Places & Pioneers, prepared by the Old Central Cultural Center and Galveston Historical Foundation’s African-American Heritage Committee.
Historic Sites & Monuments
Monuments and historical sites on the island include multiple stops made by Union officers and the local African-American population on the original Juneteenth announcements, including the Reedy Chapel AME Church, a marker for the Osterman Building which served as the Union army’s headquarters, and more.
You’ll also find Jack Johnson Park, which features a statue and historical marker honoring the Galveston native who held the World Heavyweight Champion title from 1908 to 1915. John Arthur “Jack” Johnson led a storied boxing career that took him around the world and challenged many conventions early in the 20th century.
Other noteworthy sites include the Old Central Cultural Center, the nation’s first Black library, along with an elaborate marker for the old African-American Beachfront, where Black businesses once thrived.
You’ll also find details on the first African-American high school in Texas, several commemorative parks, and the African-American Museum, adorned with paintings of famous and notable African-Americans in Galveston history.
Fourteen churches, organized more than 100 years ago, are still around and continue serving the community today.
And four of these churches were the first in Texas to be organized for African Americans in their denominations. In addition to the Reedy Chapel AME Church, visitors can see and attend services at the Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church, West Point Missionary Baptist Church, First Union Missionary Baptist Church, and ten other notable churches and congregations.
Social Distancing & COVID-19
As we enter into the vaccination phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical experts still advise that we have a way to go before we achieve herd immunity and can safely resume pre-pandemic activities. In the meantime, you can remain vigilant in protecting yourself against the coronavirus by continuing to wear face masks when in public spaces, practice social distancing of at least six feet, limit your touching of surfaces, and frequently use hand sanitizer or soap and water to keep your hands clean.
While the Governor of Texas has lifted mandatory mask orders and capacity limits, most businesses are still requiring face masks to enter and enforcing reduced capacity. Familiarize with your destination’s policies ahead of time and please respect their public safety precautions.
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