African American History on Galveston Island

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.

9 foot tall bronze statue of Ashton Villa to commemorate the Juneteenth holiday in Galveston TX

pictured: "The Legislator" statue honors the legislation that made Juneteenth an official state holiday at Ashton Villa.

Tour on Your terms

With our new interactive app, you have the ability to plan your entire trip in the palm of you hand. For instance, if you want to have a self-guided tour of these African American historic places, select "itineraries" then choose "African American History Tour."

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Tour on your terms

This tour guide was created to invite you to explore Galveston’s rich African American Heritage. The sites, events and people listed will help those interested in learning and sharing with family members the many ways African America.

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Tour on Your Terms

A lot of people aren’t aware that Galveston was where Juneteenth, a monumental event in U. S. history occurred. This day has come to be known as Juneteenth, Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. Take this self-guided Freedom Walk to learn about 5 historic sites and their importance to Juneteenth.

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African American History Attractions
9 foot tall bronze statue of Ashton Villa to commemorate the Juneteenth holiday in Galveston TX
"The Legislator" at Ashton Villa

Location: 2328 Broadway

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.

Juneteenth historical marker found in Galveston Texas. The marker is surrounded by greenery and buildings are in the distance
Juneteenth Marker

Location: 22nd St and The Strand

Commemorated annually on June 19th, Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery in the U.S. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln on Sep. 22, 1862, announced, "That on the 1st day of January. A.D. 1863, all person held as slaves within any state…in rebellion against the U.S. shall be then, thenceforward and forever free." However, it would take the Civil War and passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution to end the brutal institution of African American slavery.

After the Civil War ended in April 1865 most slaves in Texas were still unaware of their freedom. This began to change when Union troops arrived in Galveston. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, commanding officer, District of Texas, from his headquarters in the Osterman building (Strand and 22nd St.), read 'General Order No. 3' on June 19, 1865. The order stated "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.

"Freed African Americans observed "Emancipation Day," as it was first known, as early as 1866 in Galveston. As community gatherings grew across Texas, celebrations included parades, prayer, singing and readings of the proclamation. In the mid-20th century, community celebrations gave way to more private commemorations. A re-emergence of public observance helped Juneteenth become a state holiday in 1979. Initially observed in Texas, this landmark event's legacy is evident today by worldwide commemorations that celebrate freedom and the triumph of the human spirit.

Reedy Chapel A.M.E Church Exterior
Reedy Chapel AME Church

Location: 2013 Broadway

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.

Jack Johnson Park

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.

African American Beachfront Monument
African American Beachfront & WWI Monument

Location: 28th/29th streets and Seawall Boulevard

The African American Beachfront and the World War I Monument stand as poignant landmarks along Seawall Boulevard in Galveston, Texas, each carrying its own significant historical resonance.

The African American Beachfront holds a profound cultural and social legacy. During the era of segregation, Galveston's beaches were divided, with a designated area for African Americans. This section of the beachfront became a vibrant hub for African American communities, offering a space for leisure, social gatherings, and cultural expression amidst the challenges of racial discrimination. Generations of African Americans in Galveston and beyond found solace, joy, and solidarity on these sands, fostering a sense of identity and resilience.

Adjacent to this symbolic beachfront stands the World War I Monument, a solemn tribute to the sacrifices made by soldiers from Galveston who served during the Great War. The monument, often overlooked by visitors, stands as a reminder of the city's contribution to the global conflict and the bravery of its citizens who answered the call of duty. The monument's presence on Seawall Boulevard serves as a silent testament to the courage and valor of those who served, ensuring their memory endures through the passage of time.

Together, these landmarks encapsulate layers of Galveston's history—its struggles, triumphs, and the diverse tapestry of its residents. They stand as reminders of the complexities of the past and the resilience of the human spirit, inviting visitors to reflect upon the narratives woven into the fabric of this coastal city. As integral parts of Galveston's heritage, the African American Beachfront and the World War I Monument beckon observers to pause, contemplate, and honor the stories they represent.


Location: Menard Park (2222 28th St, Galveston, TX 77550)

This Seawall Viewer is a gift to the City of Galveston from Marsha Wilson Rappaport, honoring her maternal family who settled in Galveston over 160 years ago, and Tom Schwenk of Coldwell Banker TGRE. Their generosity ensures that the story of Albertine Hall Yeager and her profound impact on the community will be remembered for generations to come.

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historic Middle Passage Marker
Middle Passage Marker

Location: 2200 Harborside Dr

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 is housed by the Galveston Historical Foundation and will be installed at the Galveston Historic Seaport at Pier 21.

African American Museum Exterior
African American Museum

Location: 3427 Sealy St

The African American Museum in Galveston, Texas, serves as a beacon of cultural heritage, education, and remembrance within the vibrant tapestry of this coastal city. Nestled within the heart of Galveston's historic district, the museum stands as a testament to the enduring contributions, struggles, and triumphs of African Americans in the region and beyond.

exterior of Old Central High School
Old Central High School

Location: 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.

Old Central Cultural Center Exterior
Old Central Cultural Center

Location: 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.

brick exterior of the center at Norris Wright Cuney Park
Norris Wright Cuney Park

Location: 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.

Galveston is home to several historically African American churches that were organized more than 100 years ago and still serve the community today.

Exterior of Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church in Galveston TX
Historic Churches
Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church

Location: 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.

West Point Missionary Baptist Church exterior
Historic Churches
West Point Missionary Baptist Church

Location: 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.

First Union Baptist Church brick exterior with stained glass windows
Historic Churches
First Union Missionary Baptist Church

Location: 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.

Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church exterior
Historic Churches
Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church

Location: 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.

Historic Churches
Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church

Location: 3215 Broadway

The church was organized in 1883 on the corner of 30th at Avenue I as West Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church. The Reverend Patrick served as pastor and held Sunday services from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. As church growth flourished, property at 32nd and Broadway was purchased and the present building was erected. The Reverend B. J. Hall was among the early pastors to provide leadership and help the church progress.

Bible Way Baptist Church exterior
Historic Churches
Trinity Missionary Baptist Church

Location: 1223 32nd St

Organized in the 1890s, Trinity Mission Baptist Church (now Bible Way 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.

exterior of Saint Paul United Methodist
Historic Churches
Saint Paul United Methodist

Location: 1425 Broadway

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.

brick exterior of Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church
Historic Churches
Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church

Location: 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.

exterior of Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Church
Historic Churches
Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Church

Location: 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.

Saint Augustine Episcopal Church Exterior
Historic Churches
Saint Augustine Episcopal Church

Location: 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.

Holy Rosary Church Exterior
Historic Churches
Holy Rosary Catholic Church

Location: 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.

Sources: Galveston Historical Foundation’s African American Heritage Committee; Visit Galveston


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