This month, in honor of the upcoming Juneteenth holiday, the Humanities Texas grants team spoke with two Galveston-area organizations about their Juneteenth programming: Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church and Galveston Heritage Chorale.

Reedy Chapel is the mother African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church of Texas. It was the first of its denomination and dates back to 1848. The church was one of the locations of the June 19, 1865, public reading of General Order No. 3, which officially declared emancipation in Texas. Now, they host an annual Juneteenth celebration that includes historical reenactments, musical performances, cultural arts and educational exhibitions, and more.

Founded in 1992 with a mission to preserve and promote choral renditions of African American folk songs, the Galveston Heritage Chorale holds full concerts at least twice a year and performs at local events such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day programs, the Ball High School baccalaureate service, and the Grand Galvez's annual Galveston Holiday Lighting Celebration. On June 16, 2024, the Chorale will perform with the Galveston Symphony Orchestra at the Juneteenth Concert: Spirit and Soul concert held at the historic Grand 1894 Opera House. The Chorale will also perform at the annual Juneteenth celebration hosted by Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church on June 19.

Interview with Sharon Gillins, member and trustee of Reedy Chapel A.M.E Church

What programming do you have currently?
The very first celebration of emancipation happened in Galveston in 1866. . . . It consisted of a processional from where the Old Galveston Courthouse is now to Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church. It was followed by a service of celebration in the sanctuary. Every year we reenact that celebration. Hundreds upon hundreds of people will show up to do the march, and then we have a program that follows and simulates the original program from 1866. There are prayers, thanksgiving, inspirational speeches, and music. We also do an abbreviated reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, and we normally have an educational speaker who helps us understand the history of emancipation and other related issues. This year, as part of our celebration, we have a traveling exhibition coming from the Gilder Lehrman Institute about voting rights in the U.S. We also have a family fun day. . . . We try to incorporate all people, especially children, into the celebration. Juneteenth is a fun event, but we also need to know our history. That is what Reedy is trying to do—make sure that history is told and repeated to the children.

What is something you're enjoying about your current program?
This Juneteenth program has been occurring every year since 1866. As long as I've known, the Church has reenacted this celebration and definitely celebrated Juneteenth in some way. I do research, and I've gone back through newspapers. There are various articles that demonstrate the Church's involvement and leadership in establishing and conducting celebrations in the city. There is a long, documented history of Reedy Chapel A.M.E Church in planning the celebration of emancipation.

If someone is visiting your area, where would you recommend they visit?
Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church. But also the Nia Cultural Center, Juneteenth Legacy Center Museum, and Galveston Historical Foundation's Ashton Villa, which has an exhibition on Juneteenth.

What advice would you give to a young humanities student/professional?
Remain curious. Help tell the narrative of this country by adding to the body of existing work.

Interview with June Pulliam, executive director of Galveston Heritage Chorale

Tell us about your organization.
The Galveston Heritage Chorale was founded in 1992 by Mrs. Izola Collins with a mission to preserve and promote the choral renditions of African American folk songs, called spirituals. In the span of thirty-two years, the Chorale has performed locally in Galveston, the greater Houston area, and Louisiana. Our rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" has even been broadcast from space as a NASA wakeup call.

What makes humanities education essential?
The humanities provide a sense of continuity for all people. It connects who we've been in the past and who we are now. Without humanities education, there is a tendency for disassociation, unraveling, and disconnection within society, especially post-pandemic.

What is the most important thing people should know about your work?
The preservation and promotion of spirituals is not only the mission of the Chorale, but it's the fabric of who we are. Aside from the music developed by Indigenous Americans, the African American spiritual was the first music genre created in this country, and it has influenced other genres such as the blues, jazz, and hip-hop. The spirituals and their history need to be preserved for future generations.

Who and/or what makes your work possible?
We will forever be indebted to our founder, Mrs. Izola Collins, because she laid the groundwork for the organization. Our volunteer singers are also a huge part of the organization. Since the passing of Mrs. Collins seven years ago, I have been astonished by the dedication of the chorale members and their drive to keep it moving forward. Additionally, funding organizations such as Humanities Texas that recognize the value of our work keep us going.

If someone is visiting your area, where would you recommend they visit?
The Juneteenth mural, located in downtown Galveston, Texas, was unveiled in 2021. It depicts several scenes that were pivotal in the liberation of enslaved people across Texas in 1865. Adjacent to the mural is the Nia Cultural Center, a fiscal sponsor for the project and home of the Juneteenth Headquarters and Gallery. The Nia Cultural Center developed an interactive component for the mural that shows visitors videos and text related to the different segments of the mural.

2013 Juneteenth celebration at Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church.
A performance of the Galveston Heritage Chorale.
Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church holds a historical reenactment.
Members of Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church celebrate Juneteenth in 2021.
Galveston Heritage Chorale performs at Reedy Chapel A.M.E. Church for Juneteenth.

KPRC–TV features the Galveston Heritage Chorale.

Performance by the men of Galveston Heritage Chorale.
Performance by the women of Galveston Heritage Chorale.