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 be 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.
Galveston, of course, has its own, deeply rooted ways of celebrating Juneteenth compared to other communities nationwide. We decided to ask 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 fifteen plus 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.
Last year, she clinched the District 1 Council position with more than 80 percent of the vote.
The retired Galveston Independent School District teacher was the only African American candidate in the election. She 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 this year to celebrate Juneteenth in Galveston?
Yes, Friday, June 17, kicks off the weekend with a Juneteenth Business Summit 2627- Avenue M (2pm-5pm) and a gospel music event at the Grand Opera House presented by the NIA Cultural Center. Saturday, June 18, at 10 am there will be a reading of the Emancipation at Ashton Villa. And be sure to not miss the parade, festival, Project Legacy, and the Galveston Railroad Museum Speaker Series at 1pm, Pullman Porter exhibit that same day featuring Porter George Lewis (called age= promise+) as a special treat! On June 19 at 11 a.m., there will be a worship service at the NIA Culture Center with activities throughout the day, including African Dancers.
What are your personal favorite celebrations on that day?
My June 19th personal favorites always include 11 am Worship Service at the oldest church in Texas, the Avenue L Baptist Church on 27th Avenue L, the Historic Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Emancipation March, from the county courthouse to the Reedy Chapel Church, and the “Jazzy Father’s Day” Celebration with voter registration available and an evening of comedy, jazz and food at 7 pm hosted by the OCCP Neighborhood Association.
Where will you be – what does the day look like for you?
I will be traveling with my grand-daughter in a golf cart going across town from event to event. I will share a welcome at the Galveston Railroad Museum at 1 pm then return to watch parade because the festival is 1pm until 8 pm
What public figures in Galveston is or will be highlighted on that day? Are there any unsung heroes you would like to mention?
Weekend events include Mayor Brown, U. S. Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee, Texas State Representative Senfronia Thompson, Pullman Porter George Lewis, Texas State Representative, Dr. Greg Bonnen, Attorney Fay Williams, Gospel Artist.. I hate to start naming. I’m sure I missed someone.
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?
I would suggest visiting www.visitgalveston.com (Juneteenth Events)
Also Alex Thomas of Visit Galveston will host Galveston’s first Juneteenth Webinar on June 15th
Register for this free event: https://www.visitgalveston.com/juneteenth-webinar/
What will your personal schedule look like on that day?
On Sunday, Juneteenth, I will attend the Worship Service at the oldest Black Church in Texas, then move on to the NIA Cultural Center events, the walk from the court house to Reedy Chapel AME, and the OCCP Neighborhood event at the Tasting Room, “Jazzy Dads” Celebration & Voter Registration Drive.
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.