Celebrating Juneteenth in Galveston: Freedom Walking Through History

Estimated read time 8 min read

Imagine: In early June 1865, Union soldiers march into your town and bring with them the revolutionary news that you are now free. It’s difficult to completely understand, but if we give it some serious thought, we can practically feel the excitement and electricity in the air. When General Order No. 3 announced the end of slavery in Texas—the final Confederate holdout—the mood must have been one of both elation and astonishment.

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Today, the annual Juneteenth celebration in Galveston does more than just commemorate that day; it vibrates with the ongoing spirit of freedom and resilience, keeping the profound significance of this moment alive.

juneteenth museum exterior

Juneteenth in Galveston: The Birthplace of Freedom Day

Juneteenth has journeyed from a humble, localized commemoration of African American communities to a day observed across the nation and beyond. Although it’s popularly recognized as the day that slavery officially ended in the United States, it also symbolizes the two years that Confederate states took to implement the Emancipation Proclamation, highlighting the difficult path to freedom.  

In recent years, many people have asked, “Is Juneteenth a federal holiday?” The answer is yes—on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

juneteenth emancipation proclamation

Historical Context of Galveston and Juneteenth

The story begins with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, a move that shifted the Civil War’s focus from preserving the Union to fundamentally abolishing slavery. This proclamation declared all enslaved people in Confederate states to be free but realistically, it would only be enforced in areas controlled by Union troops. 

This strategic order also opened the door for African Americans to add their strength and spirit to the Union Army, changing US history forever forward from slavery. Here are some essential facts about Juneteenth to understand its significance better:

Fact 1: Juneteenth marks the announcement of the end of slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865.

Fact 2: The Emancipation Proclamation had been issued more than two years earlier, on January 1, 1863.

Fact 3: Juneteenth was first celebrated in Texas in 1866 and has grown in recognition across the country.

Fact 4: Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021, recognized officially across the United States.

Juneteenth museum and still we rise outdoors
Juneteenth museum and still we rise outdoors

Why Texas Was the Last State to Enforce Emancipation

Texas was remote and with fewer Union soldiers, it became a refuge for slaveholders from across the Confederacy.  Those who moved there as the war turned against them inadvertently increased the enslaved population. The actual freedom for these individuals only came with the arrival of Union troops in June 1865. This 2 year delay highlights the substantial obstacles and resistance encountered in eradicating slavery.

Thinking about Juneteenth’s beginnings in Galveston is an important reminder of the continuous struggle for justice and equality. The echoes of the past urge us to treasure and keep fighting for the liberties achieved that day beneath the Texas sun as Galveston fills with celebrants who come to recognize the historical and ongoing accomplishments of the African American community.

Historic Galveston Locations

Galveston’s colorful past presents a special chance to follow in the footsteps of people who saw the beginning of an age of freedom. The famous Freedom Walk in Galveston is a serious pilgrimage to the key locations of Emancipation, not just a trip through beautiful landscapes. 

Historic Freedom Walk: A Step-by-Step Guide to Galveston’s Emancipation History

Stop 1: Pier 21 and the Middle Passage

Start at the Galveston Historic Seaport at Pier 21. Here, a commemorative marker stands as a solemn reminder of one of the 48 known points of entry for enslaved Africans in the U.S.

Stop 2: Juneteenth Marker and Site of Union Headquarters

A short walk brings you to 2201 Strand, where you’ll find the Juneteenth Marker. This site is critical in understanding the administration and enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas.

Stop 3: US Customs House

Continue to the 1861 U.S. Customs House at 502 20th St. It was here that General Granger publicly read General Order No. 3, informing everyone of the abolition of slavery.

Stop 4: Reedy Chapel-AME Church

Reedy Chapel-AME Church, established in 1848, played a central role in the African American community. It is believed that Granger’s march concluded here on June 19, 1865.

Stop 5: Ashton Villa

Your tour ends at Ashton Villa, where General Order No. 3 was first read. Nearby, you’ll find a statue of Al Edwards, a tribute to the “Father of Juneteenth.”

1859 ashton villa
1859 ashton villa

How Juneteenth is Celebrated Today

Galveston celebrates Juneteenth with an array of events that bring the community together. The annual Emancipation Celebration Parade features vibrant floats, marching bands, dancers, and performers. Other events include a scholarship gala, a comedy fest, and a traditional reading of General Order No. 3. The Emancipation March honors those who battled for freedom and serves as a powerful display of solidarity and commemoration.

Importance of Educating Younger Generations About Juneteenth

It is essential to teach the next generation about Juneteenth in order to preserve its history and relevance. Understanding Juneteenth fosters empathy and respect in children and young people by enabling them to recognize the challenges and accomplishments of African Americans.

Juneteenth museum Al Edwards statute

Efforts to Incorporate Juneteenth into School Curricula

All throughout the country, initiatives are being made to include Juneteenth in school curricula. In order to guarantee that children are taught about the significance of June 19, 1865, in their history classes, educators and activists are working hard. 

This includes the Emancipation Proclamation’s historical background, the reason behind its delayed execution, and the proclamation’s ultimate effects on the country. 

Using multimedia materials, literature, and interactive exercises to keep students interested, some schools are starting to incorporate conversations about Juneteenth into more comprehensive courses on American history and civil rights.

juneteenth museum books

Events, Tours, and Museums Honoring Galveston’s Juneteenth History

The Juneteenth Museum: This museum features exhibits that highlight the journey from slavery to freedom and beyond.

Juneteenth and Beyond Guided African American History Tours – uncover the untold stories during this tour.

The following historic experiences focus more on Galveston history:

Homeschoolers might especially enjoy the Galveston Island Homeschool Curriculum filled with history and heritage activities. You can also access more detailed activities for Galveston’s historical places in the field trip ideas for Homeschoolers.

bishops palace

Planning Your Visit to Galveston

Practical Tips for Visiting Historical Sites Related to Juneteenth

  • Plan Ahead: Check websites for hours of operation and reservations.
  • Guided Tours: Book a guided tour for deeper insights.
  • Comfortable Attire: Wear comfortable shoes and bring a hat, sunscreen, and water.
  • Educational Resources: Bring along or download resources.
  • Respectful Engagement: Approach these sites with respect and an open mind.

4 Day Itinerary for a Juneteenth-Themed Trip

Day 1: Arrival and Introduction

  • Morning: Arrive and check into your accommodation.
  • Afternoon: Take the Freedom Walk and Visit the Juneteenth Museum.
  • Evening: Enjoy dinner at Leon’s Famous BBQ

Day 2: Historical Exploration

  • Morning: Visit Ashton Villa.
  • Afternoon: Tour the Bryan Museum.
  • Evening: Attend a cultural event, theater show, or a night tour.

Day 3: Cultural Immersion

  • Morning: Visit the Moody Mansion and Bishop’s Palace.
  • Afternoon: Participate in a walking tour, there’s plenty to choose from including the Red Light District Tour, Secrets of Strand, and a Mansions & Murder Tour.
  • Evening: Visit a local art gallery or theater.

Day 4: Reflection and Departure

  • Morning: Spend time walking the pier.
  • Afternoon: Visit the Galveston Island State Park.
  • Evening: Depart Galveston with a deeper understanding of Juneteenth and this historic island.

Local Accommodations, Dining, and Cultural Experiences

Sleep:

Eat:

  • Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar: Authentic cajun in the downtown theater district.
  • Gaido’s: Perfect for enjoying fresh seafood and Southern comfort food.
  • Mosquito Café: Offering a diverse menu with vegetarian and gluten-free options.
  • Sugar & Rye: Dine in historic elegance on southern favorites like fried green tomatoes.

Do:

  • Juneteenth Jubilee: Featuring live music, cultural performances, and local vendors.
  • Galveston Arts Center: Explore exhibitions by local and regional artists.
  • Moody Gardens: Rainforest pyramid, aquarium tunnels, 
  • The Grand 1894 Opera House: Hosts a variety of shows, including plays, concerts, and dance performances.
  • Pleasure Pier: All Day Pass to enjoy all 17 rides at the pier.
  • The Strand: Historic walking area with ornate late 1800’s architecture.

If you’re planning a broader trip in Texas and looking for more activities, you might be interested in checking out 6 free things to do in Fort Worth.

Galveston, the birthplace of Juneteenth, holds a special legacy. Its annual celebrations, historical sites, and vibrant community events honor the past while celebrating freedom and cultural pride. Visiting Galveston during Juneteenth offers a unique chance to connect with this profound history.

Plan your trip, explore the deep heritage, and join the celebration.

Happy Wandering…

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