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Juneteenth and General Order No. 3, read on June 19, 1865, announcing that all slaves were free, is one of Galveston’s most important historical moments.
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.
Two and a half years after US President Abraham Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation, Major General Gordon Granger and more than two thousand Federal soldiers arrived in Galveston on June 19, 1865, to make the profound announcement that enslaved people had been freed.
Join us as we retrace the steps of the Union Soldiers during this incredible day in history.
Granger and the soldiers arrived at the Port of Galveston.
This marker commemorates enslaved Africans in Galveston during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and 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 is located at the Texas Seaport Museum. Hear more about the Middle Passage from Joan Hubert, a member of the African American Heritage Committee with the Galveston Historical Foundation.
From Pier 21, you will walk to 2201 Strand.
Upon leaving the port, Granger and his men marched to Union Army Headquarters at the Osterman Building (now demolished). He wrote and issued General Order No. 3, which transmitted the news of the Emancipation Proclamation to Texas residents and freed all remaining enslaved people.
You will find a Texas Historical Commission subject marker about Juneteenth and the new Juneteenth Legacy Project Absolute Equality mural on the East facade of the Old Galveston Square building located at 2211 Strand.
The Order states:
“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, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
Hear more about the Juneteenth marker and the Absolute Equality Mural from local historian, Sam Collins III.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers, many of them being United States Colored Troops, were ordered to take copies of General Order number three and post them throughout the city.
From here, you will walk to 502 20th Street.
Granger and his men marched through Galveston reading General Order No. 3 at numerous locations including the 1861 U.S. Customs House.
The U.S. Customs House was relatively new in 1865 and would have been a center of activity in June 1865. It was the first building in Galveston designed by an architect and the first non-military building constructed by the Federal Government in Texas. The Customs House was one of the primary buildings that army troops occupied. A copy of General Order No. 3 was undoubtedly posted near the front door where a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation is displayed today.
The building may also have another important connection to Juneteenth. The Customs House had a functioning printing press and was used to print Amnesty Oaths that Confederate soldiers were required to sign to get their rights restored. One of the provisions in those oaths was that the signers would respect the laws of the United States including the proclamation that emancipated the slaves. The press may also have been used to print copies of General Order No. 3 that were then posted around Galveston and used by soldiers spreading throughout Texas to bring word of emancipation.
After leaving the Customs House, we suspect the soldiers marched to the Old Courthouse Square located at 702 21st Street.
Hear more from historian and published author Ed Cotham.
From here, walk to Reedy Chapel-AME Church located at 2013 Broadway.
Reedy Chapel AME Church was first established in 1848 and would have been a central location for enslaved people to gather on the island. Posting a notice at the church on Broadway would have spread much faster throughout the city. We believe this was the last site along General Gordon Granger’s march through Galveston on June 19, 1865. It is also the site of early Juneteenth celebrations in which freed slaves marched from the county courthouse to the church. This annual tradition is carried out to this day as part of the island’s Juneteenth celebrations.
Hear more from historian Sharon Gillins.
Every year, Ashton Villa is the site where the Galveston community commemorates the reading of General Order No. 3 in Texas with a prayer breakfast and reenactment. On the property grounds stands the city’s official Juneteenth statue called the ‘Legislator’ commemorating the day in which the legislation made June 19th a Texas State holiday. In the late 1970s, the Texas Legislature declared Juneteenth a “holiday of significance […] particularly to the blacks of Texas”. Texas was the first state to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday under legislation introduced by freshman Democratic state representative Al Edwards (Houston). The law passed through the Texas Legislature in 1979 and was officially made a state holiday on January 1, 1980.
Hear more from Jami Durham, Historian for Galveston Historical Foundation.
Galveston is a city of many firsts, but the largest port west of New Orleans in 1865 is also famous for being last -- the last major port to spread the message of freedom in the United States. Even though the ratification of the 13th Amendment officially ended slavery in the United States, formerly enslaved people and their descendants chose June 19, 1865, as a day of commemoration to celebrate their freedom.
With every step of the freedom walk, we honor the memory of those individuals, and we encourage you to walk together as we continue on the journey to Absolute Equality.
If you downloaded the app and took the challenge, be sure to stop by the Visitor Information Center at 2228 Mechanic, Suite 100, to pick up your keepsake memento.
Where the Texas Coast begins.