Museum celebrates island’s African-American community and history
Galveston resident James Josey Sr. is who some would call a Renaissance man.
Josey, 72, has traveled around the world with his wife of 50 years, Pearlie, raised his four children Simona, Jamika, April and James Jr., and is retired after working for the Galveston Housing Authority, Galveston College and Communities in Schools Galveston County, where he worked with island youth in various capacities.
Josey, who also at one time was heavily involved with Juneteenth celebrations on the island, decided in 1999 to open The Galveston First African-American Museum, 3427 Sealy St., so people, especially children, would know about their history and see positive role models that derived from their communities, he said.
“There’s no place like Galveston, which is rich in African-American history,” Josey said. “I wanted to create a place where locals and students of every creed and race could come and see the good things African Americans in Galveston have done and are still doing.”
Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, commemorates the June 19, 1865, arrival of Union soldiers in Galveston to declare slavery had been abolished.
The Juneteenth holiday, which is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, is just as important today as it was 155 years ago, Josey said.
“It’s important because we can celebrate our independence with pride, especially knowing that Galveston is the birthplace of Juneteenth,” Josey said. “On that day, 200,000 African Americans in Texas were freed, of which 1,500 lived on Galveston Island. This is the kind of information and history that’s in the museum, and a lot of people never knew some of the intimate details like this.
“Juneteenth was the happiest time of the year back in the day, and we celebrated the entire month of June,” Josey said. “The Moody Center had entertainment featuring James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Johnny Taylor. Neighbors would barbecue and we would just have a wonderful time.”
On display at the museum is historic proof of Juneteenth celebrations from years past; pictures and artifacts of Central High School, which was the first black high school in Texas established in 1865; and pictures of and information about notable African Americans from Galveston such as Tina Knowles-Lawson, mother of Beyoncé Knowles Carter, and Barry Eugene Carter, better known as rhythm and blues singer Barry White, just to name a few.
The exterior of the building features portraits of African Americans who were born in Galveston and were the “first” to make a historic contribution to the community, city, state of Texas, the United States or worldwide, Josey said. Portraits on the interior of the building recognize those who have done outstanding work in the community and are tremendous role models as well, Josey said.
“Moving forward, I’d love for more local students to get a chance to visit the museum,” Josey said. “I also hope to get a larger facility and a sign on Broadway giving directions so that visitors to the island can get a chance to see the museum, too.
“I’ve been a lot of places, but there’s no place like Galveston — nowhere. Hopefully, people will take the time to come out to see what we have to offer.”