Podcast: Reedy Chapel's Storied Past and Cultural Impact

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Reedy Chapel A.M.E Church Exterior

On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Galveston gathered around a church on 20th and Broadway. A notice had been posted on the church. The notice read, "The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with the 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."

General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops, many of whom were black, marched into Galveston and delivered the news to Texas, the last Confederate slave-holding state. June 19 has since become known and celebrated in Galveston and across the United States as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, or, most commonly, Juneteenth. The 250,000 enslaved people in Texas were now free by executive decree.

The church at 20th and Broadway still stands, known as Reedy Chapel. It is one of the oldest churches in Galveston and has been an important gathering place for the island's black community since it was established in 1848. The land at 20th Street and Broadway was purchased by the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church and given to the enslaved people to provide a space for them to worship, separate from the white churchgoers. The first permanent meeting house was built in 1863, and that is where many of the enslaved people of Galveston would first see and hear the Emancipation Order.

After emancipation, property ownership was transferred to the recently freed church members. Reedy Chapel also served as a school, educating the freed men and women of Galveston. The congregation became Texas's very first African Methodist Episcopal Church two years after emancipation in 1867, earning it the nickname the "Mother Church of Texas." Reedy Chapel also hosted the first two annual conferences of the AME Church in 1867 and 1868. These conferences were the "first meeting of Methodist men of color to be conducted by and for African Americans."

Reedy Chapel is named after the congregation's second pastor, Reverend Houston Reedy, who began his service to the congregation in 1867. Though he was only a pastor for a year, he oversaw both AME conferences and the chapel was later renamed in honor of his service.

The Great Fire of 1885 destroyed the original church building, which consumed hundreds of homes and nearly 40 city blocks of vulnerable buildings and structures. The next year, a new church was constructed on the same site. Norris Wright Cuny, a renowned church member, laid the masonry of the 1886 Reedy Chapel.

Reedy Chapel was severely damaged during the Great Storm of 1900, but much of the building survived.

For music lovers, the chapel is also home to one of the oldest pipe organs in the state, which has been housed here since the 1930s. Initially built in 1872 for nearby Trinity Episcopal Church, the organ is 18 feet tall and made of ash with carved walnut trim. It is made up of 800 pipes and 15 independent stops. The original mechanical action and wind system have been lovingly preserved to maintain the organ's original beauty and sound. The organ is called an Opus 647. There is only one other organ of this type in the United States, located in Washington D. C. at the Smithsonian Museum.

Reedy Chapel remains an important and active community space today.

Those visiting Galveston Island during Juneteenth can take part in local festivities and the annual Emancipation March from the old Galveston Customs and Courthouse to Reedy Chapel. Honoring the announcement of General Order Number Three, which officially ended slavery in Texas.

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J.R. Shaw Creator & Host of Galveston Unscripted

J.R. Shaw is the creator and host of Galveston Unscripted Podcast & audio tour. Shaw recognizes that history is nuanced and learning it can be powerful. He's made it his mission to reduce the friction between true history and anyone who is willing to listen! J.R. Shaw focuses on telling the full story through podcasting and social media with the goal of making learning accurate history easy and entertaining for all who seek it.

J.R. grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast, where he learned to love talking with anyone about anything! He started Galveston Unscripted after he realized how much he loved talking to people about their stories related to Galveston Island and Texas History. "So much of our history is lost when we don't have the opportunity to hear from those who lived it or have second-hand knowledge."