GALVESTON — This June, various celebrations related to Juneteenth will take place in Galveston, in Texas and throughout the country.
One hundred forty-nine years ago, on June 19, 1865, African-Americans in Galveston learned that they were freed from slavery under the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln two and half years earlier.
The anniversary of this event is celebrated as Juneteenth, a pivotal date in African-American and Galveston history.
As part of these remembrances, the Rosenberg Library will exhibit a clerical robe which belonged to the Rev. Andrew Walker Berry, former pastor of Avenue L Baptist Church, one of the oldest African-American churches in Texas.
The robe was donated to the library by the church in 2009.
Born from a slave congregation
In 1840 — just one year after the city of Galveston was officially incorporated — members of the all-white First Baptist Church established a separate congregation for slaves.
Worship services for the slaves were conducted in the balcony of the church at 3 p.m. each Sunday.
Later called the Colored Baptist Church, this congregation eventually erected its own building at Avenue L and 26th Street on land donated by Judge J.P. Cole.
A 20-by-20-foot wooden frame church was built and by the 1850s, it became known as Africa Baptist Church.
After the Civil War, the property was formally deeded to members of the congregation, and in 1867 it was reorganized as the First Regular Missionary Baptist Church.
In the years following the Civil War, membership grew from 47 to 500. However, tragedy befell the congregation in September 1900 when a powerful hurricane devastated Galveston Island.
The church building was lost, and many members of the congregation lost their lives during the storm.
The church’s current name, Avenue L Baptist Church, was adopted around 1903 as the church began to reorganize and rebuild itself.
A New Beginning for Avenue L
In 1904, the Rev. H.M. Williams became pastor, a position he held until 1933.
Williams constructed a replacement wooden frame church and in 1917 oversaw the completion of the brick building that houses the church today.
The 1904 building still stands, although it is behind the newer brick church.
Members donated the funds to purchase colorful art-glass windows, a baptismal pool, a pulpit and later a pipe organ.
The Rev. Berry
Berry was elected pastor of Avenue L Baptist Church in 1985.
Still in his 30s, he became the youngest pastor in the church’s history.
He served the congregation for the next five years until his unexpected death from a heart attack in 1990.
Berry was born in Houston in 1947. His grandfather, the Rev. W.D. Banks, was the pastor of Sunshine Baptist Church.
Berry’s father, Claude A. Berry, also was a pastor, overseeing his own congregation at the New Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Houston.
After graduating from Jack Yates High School, Andrew Walker Berry attended Tillotson College in Austin.
He earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in music at Texas Southern University.
He later earned at Ph.D. in music from Stephen F. Austin University.
Berry received his degree in theology from Union Theological Seminary, where he eventually joined the teaching faculty.
Berry authored numerous essays and writings, as well as a book, “Music in Evangelism.”
He also composed dozens of original gospel songs and was an accomplished organist.
At a glance
WHAT: June Treasure of the Month
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays
WHERE: Rosenberg Library, 2310 Sealy Ave., in Galveston; library’s historic second floor near the East Entrance
CALL: 409-763-8854, Ext. 125