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Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people were freed. The troops’ arrival came a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth is now a federal holiday.
To celebrate Juneteenth 2023, the City of Galveston is unveiling new signage that will be installed on the highway entering the Island to recognize its place as the birthplace of Juneteenth.
The welcome sign will greet visitors to the island reading “Welcome to Galveston – Birthplace of Juneteenth.”
The City will host a ceremony unveiling the sign on Friday, June 16 at 10 a.m. in City Hall Plaza, the green space behind City Hall, 823 Rosenberg and the public is invited to join.
Galveston has deeply rooted ways of celebrating Juneteenth compared to other communities nationwide.
We checked in once again with Sharon Lewis, a Galveston District 1 City Councilwoman who was born and raised in Galveston to share her memories of this special celebration in the place where it all began.
She has more than 16 years of community experience, communication and collaboration between Old Central Carver Park Neighborhood Association (OCCP) and residents of Galveston advocating for sidewalks, parks, housing, entrepreneurship and Community Development Block Grant Funds.
Lewis was raised in Galveston and along with her parents, longshoreman Ellis and business owner Dorothy Baldridge and her five siblings. She is a graduate of the Ball High Class of 1973, has very deep roots in the community, and was kind enough to share her memories and insights into Juneteenth in Galveston.
Galveston is the originating city for the Juneteenth federal holiday. Can you briefly tell us why and any memories you have of this celebration and now holiday?
Yes, Galveston, Texas is the place where Gen. Granger entered and announced the Emancipation Proclamation putting freedom in motion for enslaved people on the island. Afro-Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for many years across the United States. My Uncle Earnest would share stories about “the club owner” from Texas who relocated to San Francisco and initiated the first Juneteenth celebration in the San Francisco Bay area. Ironically, residents of Galveston who lived in the OCCP Neighborhood, Cedar Terrace, Palm Terrace, Parkland never lagged in Juneteenth Celebration! My mom waited yearly for the parade that passed on the infamous Ball Street right in front of the homestead. The parades were jubilant with drum majors, the little Burns twins leading, church vans, dance groups, bands, Corvettes, horses with parade organizers like Shabazz, Bowie, Jackson, Annie Mae Charles, Griffin, Grice. And it was not Juneteenth without Alfreda Houston and the “Prayer Circle” at St. Vincent’s as well as Norma Scurry and crew who organized the fish fry for the Central High School Gathering.
Can you highlight some of the events that are happening in 2023 to celebrate Juneteenth in Galveston?
Yes – the reading and reenactment of the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation and on June 19, the gifted violinist Dominique Hammons and comedian Liz Wallace will perform. There’s also an annual walk from the historical Reedy Chapel AME Church to the courthouse. This year’s events also include a business seminar for entrepreneurs sponsored by business owner Pierre Goodwill and a Youth Panel Discussion & TikTok Challenge as well as a gospel concert on June 16 featuring Smokie Norful. Last but not least there’s the parade and festival on June 17 as well as the Freedom Ball on June 18 – and 45 minutes of the latter will be a panel discussion on Juneteenth. It’s an important connection (that ties in with) how the youth can carry out the idea of freedom. (For a full list of events, including times and places, please visit the Visit Galveston website)
What are your personal favorite celebrations on Juneteenth day?
That’s a tough question to answer. I have already kicked the month off by attending the Juneteenth gala where Madison Swain was announced as the 2023 Juneteenth ambassador. We then moved onto the 44th Juneteenth Banquet with Dr. Charles Mouton as the speaker. (Charles P. Mouton was appointed President and interim for the University of Texas Medical Branch in August 2022. He is also Executive Dean and Executive Provost, as well as a Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at UTMB Health). My goal is to attend each event.
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Where will you be on Juneteenth – what does the day look like for you?
I plan to be at every event. You can find all of the Juneteenth events listed at Visit Galveston website.
What is your personal involvement or role in Juneteenth and what would you like readers to know about you in that regard?
My first personal involvement was working with Alex Thomas of Visit Galveston in organizing community stakeholders to provide specific details for their events. Alex’s IT Dept. of Visit Galveston created logo, developed web page of events and the Juneteenth planning grew as various other stakeholders joined the planning. The City of Galveston now officially have a Juneteenth Alliance to plan future celebrations with community stakeholders.
Is there any part of the history that has been underplayed or forgotten in modern Juneteenth celebrations that you would like to mention?
The fact that slaves were human beings and were not entitled to live as they were created, therefore, we all must celebrate with knowledge and awareness of the enslaved ” human beings.” The history of slavery will continue to be underplayed; a people with no political voice, no human protection, no generational relational families, and beaten to death. No light, but yet they found hope and begin to be the abolitionist for their own freedom. “And still I rise.”
“The demise of slavery was not so much a proclamation as a movement; not so much an occasion as a complex history with multiple players and narratives,” historian Ira Berlin wrote in The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States. A movement that puts us today at the crossroads of equal justice.
If someone is visiting on that day what events or celebrations should they not miss?
That’s a tough question. I would suggest visiting visitgalveston.com (Juneteenth Events)
Do you have any personal ways of celebrating that you would like to mention?
Always family gathering and BBQ!
How do average citizens of Galveston celebrate Juneteenth? Any local customs, foods, activities?
‘Central High School Gathering’, always a Juneteenth local custom! High school classes of the 1st Black High School in the state of Texas gather and celebrate.
The average resident celebrates with watching the parade then commencing at the Wright Cuney Park picnic, going to the food fun festival with family and friends. Families share their special recipes with dancing and playing games and participating in all the family activities NIA Cultural have planned.