There’s no place like home, especially when it comes to the unique and offbeat places to explore on the island. One treasure that you can’t miss is Galveston’s African-American Museum.
On the outside walls of the museum at 3427 Sealy St. are portraits of some prominent black Galvestonians, painted by artist E. Herron. The historic center opened its doors in 2003 through the efforts of James Josey, who grew up on the island.
The historical figures include Jack Johnson, who in 1908 became the first black heavyweight boxing champion; Annie Mae Charles, the Galveston Police Department’s first black female officer; and Doug Matthews, who became the first black city manager in Texas when he held the job in Galveston.
“It makes me feel honored to be from a historical place where blacks paid such a major contribution,” said Abraham G., a Galveston actor and poet. He added:
“The museum is a facelift to the neighborhood. Much props to James Josey for doing it, and now it’s a challenge for the community to be more involved with patronage and maintenance.”
As a BOI (Born on the Island native), I had the privilege of knowing many of the iconic names that adorn the exterior of the museum.
I’ll never forget when Coach Ray Dohn Dillon threw me into the deep end of Central High School’s swimming pool, after he was confident that I had learned the basic fundamentals of swimming. Before I knew it, I was slicing through the water and staying afloat.
Dillon, now 85, graduated from Central in 1948 and became the first African American from Galveston to be drafted into the National Football League in 1952. He played with the Detroit Lions before moving on to Ontario and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
T.D. Armstrong, along with businessman Gus Allen, was among the city’s first successful black entrepreneurs. T.D. often stopped by our home to socialize with the family. Here’s what historian Sam Collins III had to say about Armstrong in a 2012 article in GuidryNews.com:
Thomas Deboy Armstrong moved to Galveston in 1938 to work for Strode Mortuary. He had been a school teacher for six years in Port Arthur and Louisiana before moving to Galveston.
In 24 years of working on the island he had built a business empire that placed him on the list of top 100 Richest Negroes in America. His businesses included real estate, café, motel, drug store, life insurance, funeral home, gas station and more.
Annie Mae Charles, who turned 102 this month, used a “tough love” approach to deal with some of the meanest, roughest and toughest kids when she joined GPD as a juvenile officer in 1962. She worked at the department for 15 years before retiring in 1977.
Galveston resident Lonnie Jones said that the lessons of “Mrs. Charles” still resonate with him today. He shared his thoughts on a post on Facebook:
“The mid 1950's, George W. Carver Elementary School, 7 years old. I was afraid to ‘shoot hooky’ from school because I thought Mrs. Charles would catch me and take me to jail. Fast forward 40 years. At 47 years old, I was delivering her mail.
“Every year for Juneteenth, she invited me to her house for ‘barbeque and red soda water,’ ” Jones said. “Today, at age 67, I respect and honor Mrs. Charles. As grown as I think I am, there are still things I would dare not say or do in her presence.”
Abraham G., the actor/poet, said it’s important to keep Galveston’s African-American Museum alive.
“I’d like to see the fundraising activities stepped up, like holding art shows and poetry readings and sponsoring artistic pieces at the museum,” he said.
I couldn’t agree more.