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History of Juneteenth Seen & Felt Throughout Galveston     

June 19, 2022


The "Absolute Equality" mural was painted last year by artist and historian Samuel Collins III to commemorate and celebrate the Juneteenth holiday that originated in Galveston. The location marks where the Osterman Building, an important historical location related to the holiday, once stood.

By Andréa Bolt, Social Media & Communications Manager

In Galveston, Juneteenth just feels bigger. This now-national holiday and the jubilation surrounding it have always had special meaning on Galveston Island because this is where the history happened. 

It was here on June 19, 1865, that Union Army General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived to formally inform the enslaved Black and African American people of Galveston and Texas - about a quarter of a million people - that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed them. 

The order read:

“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.”

The problem was that President Lincoln had passed the proclamation more than two years prior. Geographically and culturally, Texas was a removed slave state whose slave owners were loath to accept defeat and the forced change it represented. Combined with a low number of Union troops, acknowledgment, and enforcement of the proclamation were both slow and inconsistent. This changed that fateful day 157 years ago. 

According to legend, Gen. Gordon read aloud the contents of General Order No. 3 from the wrought-iron balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa. First known as “Emancipation Day,” Juneteenth was later renamed as a portmanteau of June, nineteenth, and jubilation, celebrated across Galveston, Texas, and the United States. 

Gen. Granger and his men rode through the island, announcing the news via horseback and at several historical locations with rich cultural significance across Galveston. Many of these locations are still visible and visitable today. 

Ashton Villa

Ashton Villa is supposedly one of the many places Gen. Granger read the General Order No. 3 to the people of Galveston, alerting enslaved peoples of their freedom decreed by the Emancipation Proclamation.
Ashton Villa is supposedly one of the many places Gen. Granger read General Order No. 3 to the people of Galveston, alerting enslaved peoples of their freedom decreed by the Emancipation Proclamation.

In Galveston, Ashton Villa stands at Broadway Ave. and 24th St. Built in 1859, it was one of the very first brick buildings in Texas. Enslaved people helped to build the home of banker and merchant Colonel James Moreau Brown, which became the headquarters of both the Confederate and Union Armies for different periods of time in Galveston during the Civil War. 

Now, it’s known as a gathering place for Juneteenth celebrations. On the right side of the home’s front yard stands a statue of Al Edwards, the Democratic State Representative from Houston beloved for beginning the annual tradition in 1979 of a prayer breakfast, celebration, and reading of General Order No. 3. 

The statue of Rep. Al Edwards sits on the grounds of Ashton Villa.
A statue of the late Rep. Al Edwards sits on the grounds of Ashton Villa. He is depicted holding a copy of General Order No. 3, which he had read every year on June 19 since 1979 to commemorate Juneteenth. 

Reedy AME Chapel

Just a few minutes east on Broadway Ave. is the Reedy AME Chapel, historically known as the “Negro Church on Broadway.” Texas’s First African Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1867 and stood then and now a symbol of faith, strength, and the importance of community. As a central figure of said community, the order was also read at this location so as to spread the word of emancipation. 

Reedy AME Chapel has been an important part of the Black & African American community in Galveston for over 150 years. It is Texas' first AME church and marks another location where the news of emancipation was announced.
Reedy AME Chapel has been an important part of the Black & African American community in Galveston for over 150 years. It is Texas' first AME church and marks another location where the news of emancipation was announced.

U.S. Customs House & Court House, or “Old Galveston Customhouse”

The order was similarly read and shared at the U.S. Customs House on 1918 Postoffice St. Known as the first building erected by the United States of America for civil uses in the state of Texas, the custom house was a central location for business on the island, acting as a custom and court house and post office. 

Wikimedia Commons
(Wikimedia Commons) The Custom House is another historical location in the observance of Juneteenth. 

Osterman Building/”Absolute Equality” Mural 

The Union Army was headquartered at the Osterman Building in downtown Galveston. Though since demolished, it once sat on the famous Strand St. and 22nd St. but is honored as of last year by artist Samuel Collins III’s “Absolute Equality” mural. 

The Absolute Equality mural is located on Strand St. in downtown Galveston.
The Absolute Equality mural is located on Strand St. in downtown Galveston.

Collins said this sacred space served as the perfect canvas to depict Granger and his troops riding in to spread the news, but also to highlight the often-overlooked “United States Colored Troops,” Union soldiers, themselves.

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Media contact:
Andréa Bolt
Social Media & Communications Manager
a_bolt@tamug.edu



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