African American History

Galveston has figured prominently in the history of Texas, including in its African American history.

Important links to Galveston’s African American heritage can be found throughout the city, in the form of historic buildings, monuments, and parks.

To learn more about this heritage and pay homage to influential African American Galvestonians, visitors should add several of these sites to their travel itineraries.

Juneteenth and Galveston

Perhaps the island’s most profound connection to African American history is as the birthplace of the Juneteenth holiday. The history behind this holiday is that even though President Abraham Lincoln had already officially outlawed slavery, the last American slaves were not freed from remote areas of the south (including parts of Texas) until June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston to announce and enforce the emancipation.

It is believed that the General read aloud the proclamation, General Order No. 3, at Ashton Villa, now the site of a historic 9-foot bronze statue of state lawmaker Al Edwards holding the state law that made Juneteenth a national holiday.

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free." Union General Gordon Granger

Following emancipation, in 1885, Galvestonians established the Central School (later renamed Central High School), the first Texas school for African Americans. This school operated out of a small wooden building until a new building was designed and erected in 1893. A library–the first African American public library in Texas–was added in 1904. The school and library operated until 1968, when schools were desegregated. The old school’s annex is now part of the museum at the Old Central Cultural Center, at 2627 Avenue M.

African American Galvestonians also established a number of key churches; many of these were the first African American churches in their denominations in Texas.

Self-Guided Tour

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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Reedy Chapel A.M.E Church Exterior
African American Churches
Reedy Chapel African Methodist Church

This was the first African American Methodist church in Texas. It was also a key location in early Juneteenth celebrations, in which freed slaves marched from the county courthouse to the church. This march from the courthouse to the church has become an annual Juneteenth tradition on the island.

Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church Exterior
African American Churches
Avenue L Missionary Baptist Church

This was the first African American Baptist church in Texas. It began as the “Colored Baptist Church” in 1840, established as the slave congregation of the First Missionary Baptist Church.

Holy Rosary Church Exterior
African American Churches
Holy Rosary Catholic Church

This was the first African American Catholic school and church in Texas. The school closed in 1979, after 81 years of service, but the church is still active today.

Saint Augustine Episcopal Church Exterior
African American Churches
Saint Augustine Episcopal Church

This was the first African American Episcopal church in Texas.

Other historic African American churches:

  • Wesley Tabernacle United Methodist Church
  • Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Church
  • Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church
  • Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church
  • Trinity Missionary Baptist Church
  • West Point Missionary Baptist Church
  • First Union Missionary Baptist Church
  • Saint Paul United Methodist

Historic Landmarks & Parks

A number of interesting landmarks and parks are related to African American history in Galveston.

Middle Passage Marker, Texas Seaport Museum, 2200 Harborside Drive

This landmark honors all the Africans who were enslaved in Galveston during the 18th and 19th centuries as well as those who perished during the Middle Passage across the Atlantic Ocean into the United States. Galveston was one of the 48 ports of entry for the trafficked Africans who survived the Middle Passage.

Juneteenth Marker, site of Osterman Building, 2201 Strand Street

This building was the headquarters of the Union Army in 1865, when General Granger issued General Order No. 3 declaring all slaves in Texas free.

Juneteenth Monument, Ashton Villa, 2328 Broadway Avenue J

The 9-foot tall bronze “Legislator” statue at the Ashton Villa honors the bill, sponsored by (late) Representative Al Edwards, that recognized Juneteenth as an official holiday in the state of Texas.

Jack Johnson Park, 1313 26th St

This park honors the African American Galvestonian, the legendary boxer Jack Johnson, who held the World Heavyweight Champion title from 1908 to 1915.

Norris Wright Cuney Park, 718 41st St

This park is a monument to Norris Wright Cuney, a visionary civic and business leader, politician, and labor organizer and the son of a former slave. He was also highly instrumental in constructing schools for African American children.

Site of Cotton Jammers’ Park, 3726 Ave S

Galveston once served as a key cotton port, and this park was the site of “cotton jamming” or screwing the cotton bales tightly into place to get as many bales as possible into the hulls of ships.

African American Beachfront, 28th and 29th St and Seawall Boulevard

African American beachfront businesses once lined this section of Seawall Boulevard. Even though African American businesses were forced to operate in this confined area, it became a vibrant hub of activity, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Notable African American Galvestonians

African American Galvestonians have made headlines over the years as visionary civic leaders and politicians, legendary athletes, and dazzling entertainers.

  • Norris Wright Cuney was of mixed-race ancestry and born into slavery. He was freed by his white planter father and became a visionary civic and business leader, politician, and labor organizer after the Civil War. He was also highly instrumental in constructing schools for African American children. Many consider him the most important black leader in Texas in the 19th century.
  • Jack Johnson, born in Galveston in 1879, was a legendary boxer who held the World Heavyweight Champion title from 1908 to 1915. Nicknamed the “Galveston Giant,” he is widely regarded as one of the most influential boxers of all time. He was also known for objecting to the ideas about the economic and social “place” of blacks in American society, and he earned many detractors as well as fans.
  • Barry White was an American singer, songwriter, and record producer who was born in Galveston in 1944. He cultivated a romantic image and became known for his bass-baritone voice. During his career, he produced 106 gold and 41 platinum albums and 20 gold and ten platinum records, selling more than 100 million records.