The History of Juneteenth in Galveston
Juneteenth is a federal holiday celebrating the freedom granted to enslaved people in Confederate states two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The holiday, celebrated on June 19, originated in Galveston, Texas. Residents of the city continue to honor the legacy of Juneteenth through monuments and yearly events.
Freedom at Last for Enslaved People
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, but a long road to freedom for enslaved people followed. Juneteenth marks the day when the last enslaved people were declared free.
In the days following Lincoln's proclamation, Union soldiers marched through plantations and cities, spreading the news and freeing enslaved people. Despite this positive occurrence, many places in the South maintained slavery.
The 13th Amendment, ratified in December 1865, marked the official end of slavery. The final freedom for enslaved people came on June 19, 1865, when 2,000 Union troops came to Galveston Island, Texas, led by General Gordon Granger. They came with General Order No. 3, a legal decree that enforced the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas.
This historic day led to the freeing of over 250,000 previously enslaved people in the city. Those who were freed remembered that day as Juneteenth, a combination of “June” and "nineteenth." Families in Galveston celebrated the event privately for many years, but celebrations became more public on June 15, 2021, when it was declared a national holiday.
After the final freeing of enslaved people in 1865, a 12-year reconstruction period followed — formerly enslaved people ran for office, sought lost family members and established schools. Galveston, the last to see freedom, became the first to see many advancements, like the first African American secondary school and public library.
Honoring the Legacy of Juneteenth
In Galveston, Juneteenth holds a special place because it is where the holiday began. Even before the day became a national event, Black Americans hosted private celebrations. Now, the city hosts many public events to reflect on the area's history and celebrate a changing future. Here are a few events that recognize Juneteenth.
Juneteenth and Beyond Guided Tours
Take a guided walking tour of Galveston and learn about Juneteenth and Black history in Texas. The Black-owned and -operated tourism business called Juneteenth and Beyond leads the tour. You can choose from a Freedom Trail Tour or private group tours for five to six people.
Juneteenth Parade and Picnic
This annual event passes down Ball Street between 26th and 41st streets. At the end of the parade route is a picnic at Wright Cuney Park. It is an excellent opportunity to celebrate the event with your family and enjoy a meal with community members on the afternoon of June 19.
Juneteenth Family Fun Day at Reedy Chapel
The Reedy African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Chapel hosts a family-friendly event to honor the holiday. The celebration includes a full day of activities, including a church service, church tour, block party and freedom march. The block party has entertainment like food trucks, bounce houses and a DJ.
Galveston Symphony Celebrates Juneteenth
On June 18, the Galveston Symphony Orchestra and the Galveston Heritage Chorale host a free concert performing African American music at the 1894 Opera House. The event honors the history of Juneteenth by promoting African American culture. In total, 50 to 60 musicians and singers will perform.
Historic Places in Galveston Tied to Juneteenth
As the place where Juneteenth began, the history of Galveston, Texas, still shows in the area today. Galveston has many historical sites where visitors can learn more. Here are a few places where you can learn and reflect on the area's history:
- Aston Villa: Stories say that General Granger read General Order No. 3 from a balcony in this building. The site was also a gathering place for the Union army near the end of the Civil War and now hosts annual Juneteenth celebrations and a history exhibit.
- U.S. Customs House and Courthouse: This building served as the first civil structure in Texas, and the order was also read here because the location was central to business and government on the island.
- Galveston Juneteenth Mural: The "Absolute Equality" mural displays Juneteenth history at the Osterman building's location, the Union Army's historic headquarters. The work by artist Reginald Adams was unveiled in 2021.
- Reedy AME Chapel: This was Galveston's first African Methodist Episcopal Church established in 1867. It is a central pillar of the community in the area.
- Middle Passage Marker: Though not connected to Juneteenth, this marker commemorates enslaved Africans brought to Galveston through the Middle Passage. It also mourns those lost along the journey.
Celebrate America's Second Independence Day
Juneteenth meant the independence of millions of enslaved people throughout the country. Because of this fact, many consider the date America's second Independence Day. Whether you are in Galveston or any other state across the country, knowing the history and significance of the day can help you celebrate more knowledgeably.